Why a Child Protection Index in Serbia and beyond?

Photography credits: Roxana Todea

Article by Tamara Luksic-Orlandic

Tamara Luksic-Orlandic has been the Deputy Ombudsperson for Serbia during five years, being in charge with handling complaints on violation children’s rights, gender equality, rights of LGBTIQ persons, with inspecting and investigating profile public bodies and with monitoring the situation of vulnerable groups in institutions. Her professional experience is extended to several other positions: senior expert for the EU Delegation to Serbia within the project “Implementation of the Anti-Discrimination Policies in Serbia”, deputy assistant for the Ministry of Media and the Ministry of Human Rights, councillor to the Minister of Human and Minority Rights.

In the last two decades several indices were established with regional or global coverage. One of the most prevalent is the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), introduced by Transparency International (TI). Each year TI scores countries on how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be. The CPI was launched in 1995 in 41 countries and it is now being implemented in 175 countries and territories. TI believes that their index sends a powerful message to governments and forces them to act to diminish corruption in the public sector.

The Euro Health Consumer Index was established in 2006 by the Health Consumer Powerhouse (founded in 2004) aiming to introduce open comparison of healthcare systems performance. They score the health systems in 36 European countries, offering a reality check for policy makers. In 2013, Serbia was included for the first time in the Index, with a very worrisome result. Serbia was on the very bottom and the media reacted by staging a massive campaign against the public authorities.

The European Institute for Gender Equality introduced the Gender Equality Index as a unique measurement tool that synthesizes the complexity of gender equality as a multi-dimensional concept, consisting of six domains (work, money, knowledge, time, power and health, including violence and inter sectors inequalities). Scores go from 1 to 100. On top is Sweden with 74,3 points, while Romania comes last with 35,3 points. When power of women is considered, Sweden is again on the top with 74,3 points, while Cyprus is at the bottom with 12,2 points.
Following these examples ChildPact has decided to develop a Child Protection Index to identify needs and gaps in child protection systems. The pilot phase of the Child Protection Index, which is now being finalized in Serbia, will show that the situation of child protection is far from ideal. The data collection experts who participated in the pilot phase were faced with a huge gap between legislation and implementation. A quick glance at the preliminary results shows that the Serbian legal system regarding child protection is very comprehensive. All international child protection instruments are ratified, but legal provisions are rarely translated in practice.
The following weaknesses of the Serbian social welfare system have been exposed during the pilot phase:

  • Lack of quantitative data, particularly regarding trafficked/missing children, street children, drug abuse, children victims of violence. This issue leaves us with a very important question: how can we cope with the problems and successfully solve them if you miss data?
  • The lack of specific institutions is another black hole. The data collection experts, all of them experienced child protection professionals, were surprised to realize that practically there are no rehabilitation services in social protection, except for those in the health system;
  • Foster care in Serbia has a long tradition and it seems that the whole process is organized in the best interest of a child: foster parents are financially rewarded for their services and children benefit of financial support from the state. However we realized that as a matter of fact financial standards for foster care services do not exist;
  • Although The Law on social protection was adopted in April 2011, NGO licensing is a big concern: none of them has been licensed to provide services. Those who offer services do that based on projects and donations, mostly from international donors;
  • Reports of public bodies are insufficiently documented so that relevant innormation is hard to find.
  • Coordination of the stakeholders is weak, even when their roles are described in official protocols.

What is especially worrying is the lack of information about the portion of state budget that is dedicated to child protection. Only indirectly, through National Report on Social Inclusion and Reduction of Poverty, could we estimate that expenditure for child protection in 2013 was around 2,1% of the GDP. Both worrying and sad is that children with disabilities do not have an equal chance to be adopted: not even one such child was adopted in Serbia in the time reviewed.

On a positive note, we acknowledge the low number of children in placed in residential care (all types of residential care: institutions, small group homes, shelters, protected apartments, mother and baby units/ maternal centers, etc): 916 in December 2013.

In conclusion, the CPI is likely to become a very useful tool for orienting the lobbing strategies on specific issues and advocating for better policies to protect vulnerable children. Fighting for improvements in certain areas will be easier due to the clear picture at the national level, but also because we will be able to make comparisons with the neighboring countries. This opens the way to a healthy competition between countries and this is one of the most important added values of the Child Protection Index.

To encourage new efforts in the field of child protection we think that the Index should be adopted by as many countries as possible. The above-mentioned indices, that represented an inspiration for us, include a very wide range of countries. Let us do the same!