Serbia: “Investing in Children – Benefit for All Children” conference

Source: Network of Civil Society Organizations for Children (MODS), Serbia

The International Conference “Investing in Children – Benefit for All Children”, with the guests from 21 European countries, organized by the Network of Organizations for Children of Serbia (MODS), Eurochild, the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Team of the Government of the Republic of Serbia (SIPRU) and UNICEF, was held in Belgrade this week.

At the opening of the conference, where international experiences and examples of public budget allocations were presented with the aim of reducing poverty and social exclusion of children, the importance of aligning public financial resources with policies and legislation affecting children was highlighted. The conference emphasized Serbia’s commitment to fighting child poverty and meeting the United Nations development agenda.

The draft of the law on financial support to the family with children soon in the Assembly

On that occasion, Slavica Djukić Dejanović, the minister without portfolio in charge of demography and population policy, and The Head of the Council for the Rights of the Child of the Government of Serbia, highlighted the role of the Council for Child Rights as a mechanism for coordination that will allow for cooperation in the follow-up and advancement of child policies.

“The most cost-effective social goal is investing in children. We have prepared measures and laws that will make a key contribution in that direction. We are working on the revision of the Strategy for Encouraging Birth, we will soon send a law on financial support to the family with children in the parliamentary procedure. We are creating a national mechanism for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and I am sure that the fight against poverty, as well as health and education and gender equality will be in our focus,” said Minister Djukic Dejanovic at the opening of the conference.

The Minister of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs Zoran Djordjevic stressed that the Government of the Republic of Serbia fully accepts and implements the policy of supporting children from the youngest age, through different programs for children and their parents or legal guardians, and added that the provision of minimal financial security to the family with children is realized by the Republic of Serbia primarily through the implementation of the Law on Social Protection and the Law on Financial Support to the Family with Children, as well as through the protection of the rights of the child, which we are committed to in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and all accompanying domestic and international legal acts and sub-acts. Serbia is fully committed to the most important investment in the country’s future – investing in the early development of the child.

The Deputy Director of UNICEF, Severine Leonardi, pointed out that the Government of the Republic of Serbia is clearly committed to the well-being of children and invests in various types of monetary benefits and services that affect children directly or indirectly. However, the structure of the budget still does not fully reflect these investments and does not provide a full insight into the details. Therefore, UNICEF calls for the government to define a methodology for better monitoring of child-related investments and create a basis for budgeting that is tailor-made for children.

Investing in children is an investment in the future of all children and all of us

At the beginning of the conference, the participants had an opportunity to hear a recorded address by the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Marianne Thyssen who sent a message that childcare practically pays off for itself: “In under ten years our societies get a full return on investment. Compare that with the payback time of 40 years for a road. If you care for children, invest in childcare. In Belgrade or Brussels we share the view, no child should suffer from poverty or social exclusion. So I applaud your goal: investing in the well-being and the future of all children” Marianne Thyssen said.

Finances are always the biggest problem, but effective investing in children and families will reduce poverty of all children

More than 100 participants at the conference heard the speech of the State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mirjana Ćojbašić:

“The Republic of Serbia is seriously working to establish a single system for planning, preparing and implementing infrastructure investments. A particular challenge in the future will be the recognition of the importance of “soft” investments, including investment in children, as one of the priorities for national investment, bearing in mind rates of return on this type of investment. Investing in children is not only investment in them but also in increasing employability of their parents, primarily mothers, whom through the more efficient provision of public services, have, among other things, greater opportunities to enter the labor market and become economically stronger. Therefore, all stages of public investment must be thoroughly planned, allocated and then effectively implemented, “said Cojbasic.

The Manager of the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Team of the Government of the Republic of Serbia (SIPRU), Ivan Sekulović, said that it is necessary to know how much we allocate for children and families with children and what the structure of these investments looks like, bearing in mind  the poverty of children and families with children in Serbia which is above the average.

“This is the only way to improve investment efficiency and advocate greater child support. Opening of existing administrative data, information networking and improvement of program classification, in particular Program 11-Social and child protection which does not currently indicate expenditures for children in a sufficiently clear way, while conducting a comprehensive analysis of financial allocations for children are the activities where the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Team of the Government of the Republic Serbia will continue to provide support in the coming period,” Sekulovic explained.

Conclusions

The conference concluded that it is necessary to intensify the work on the implementation of the UN Objectives for Sustainable Development (where the fight against child poverty is at the forefront), improve the monitoring and evaluation of the financial allocations for children and families in Serbia (whereby international experience and methodology can be used ), develop groups of community service that will support the family, especially families at risk of separation, that more coverage is needed with the services which will be available and financial support to families and children living in poverty .