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Jul 6, 2020

Working on 116 000 during COVID-19

The European number for missing children in Serbia in the previous period continued to work 24/7, regardless of the emergency measures introduced due to the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus.

During the period covered by this report, we received an anonymous report from a mother of a minor boy, who expressed great concern over the disappearance of her 16-year old son. As this had happened several times before, she assumed where he might be and with whom, and she shared this information with the police when she reported the disappearance. The boy was found and returned home by quick police reaction, and the competent Center for Social Work was also involved. 

As the reorganization of the work of the institutions affected the direct contact with the beneficiaries, the mother was afraid that she could be left without their support, and she feared that the boy could not only run away again, but also endanger himself considering the contacts with adults in whose motives she doubted. She also feared that someone might try to use or exploit him. We provided her with all the necessary information and encouraged her to contact us whenever she needs our support. Knowing there is someone who would take concrete steps in order to help the boy, brought her relief and a feeling that she is not all on her own.

Also, during the same period, we were in contact with associates working in another organization that provides assistance to human trafficking victims as well as support in the cases of missing children. All of them detected a reduction of different forms of assistance available to children at risk, as well as an increase of the risk of exploitation of children online, and came to a conclusion that joint and synchronized actions are needed to draw attention to this problem. Various meetings and webinars were organized with the aim of exchanging information and good practices, also as how to protect those who provide assistance and defend children and/or victims' rights.

Also at this period, ASTRA together with its associates, the international organizations: AMBER Alert Europe,  Missing Children Europe, and Global Missing Children Networkmarked the International Day of Missing Children, May 25, actively participating in the international campaigns Football Cares and Don’t Be An Easy CatchBoth campaigns are aimed at children, young people and their guardians to protect themselves from potential kidnappings and disappearances. In the continuation of the text, we bring you the official announcements of the organizers of these campaigns on the occasion of May 25, the International Day of Missing Children.

Jul 6, 2020

Support for victims of trafficking during Covid-19

The previous period of operation of the ASTRA SOS Hotline coincided with the period of the global health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemics, and it was characterized by an increase in the number of calls by 71%.

Clients, as well as the whole society, were under great stress during the pandemic, and went through different phases of adaptation to the situation, different reactions and emotions, from surprise and disbelief, to anger, fear, concern and depression.

In the beginning, a high degree of anxiety and frustration prevailed about how to adapt and how to find or regain sense of some balance and stability. Due to different obligations and rolls, but also restrictions due to the emergency situation, they felt discouraged, under great pressure to organize their family life in a different way, while being functional and efficient at work. In the whole situation, some faced job loss, others faced job reorganization and a very precarious situation as to whether they might lose their jobs, and thus their livelihoods. With limited resources, combined with the feeling they are losing the ground under they feet, clients called to share with us their worries and fears.

It suddenly seemed as if the space devoted to work towards their recovery and reintegration had shrunk and become concentrated around the most basic things and issues:

  • how to protect one’s children and oneself, how to one’s protect parents,
  • how to monitor whether children are mastering their classes that have moved to the online sphere and whether they regularly work and send homework to teachers, in particular since one cannot expect an immediate feedback from them
  • who will look after the children, if the children go neither to kindergarten nor school, and the grandparents are not allowed to leave their homes,
  • how to go to the doctor for a necessary examination and organize a trip to another city,
  • what will happen to the trial that is scheduled and whether the defendants will be released from custody,
  • whether they will receive a package of food, clothes or hygiene products, if the courier services also face difficulties in functioning, etc.

Whatever they planned, clients felt limited to take any concrete steps.

Informing beneficiaries in a crisis situation, encouraging them, reacting to their immediate needs and working directly with them has once again proven to be an essential way to provide support to our clients as well as some sort of relief in a rather worrying situation. The increased number of field actions and provision of direct assistance to victims of trafficking reflects a greater need of clients for support during the pandemic, as well as the collapse of the system, which could not cope immediately with a problem of such a magnitude.

Due to the uncertainty of the current situation, for some clients, the way to overcome anxiety and discomfort was to find someone they could talk to, to seek the help they need, to recognize and accept their own emotions, as well as to assess the situation and find the appropriate way to cope with it.

In these strange and challenging times, practically nothing would be possible without cooperation, so, despite the mentioned blockade of the system, there were still some bright examples of people who were always available and extremely sensitive. Even then, our clients and us could rely on associates from different professions (doctors, lawyers, prosecutors, among others) as well as activists from other CSOs. It should be noted that doctors, regardless of the problem they faced most directly, because they were on the front line in the fight against the virus, in every situation when they had direct contact with survivors of human trafficking, had professional and victims centered approach.

In May, it seemed to everyone that the epidemic was behind us, that it ended as well as it could, given the circumstances, and that all the work, patience and following of the safety measures paid off. However, the events of these last days and weeks confute us, because the state of emergency has been re-introduced due to the spread of Covid-19. And in the new circumstances, support to the survivors and fight against human trafficking are continuing.

Mar 10, 2020

Law on Missing Babies

At the end of February 2020, the draft Law on Missing Babies, proposed by the Government of the Republic of Serbia, came under parliamentary procedure.

On this occasion, the Missing Babies Parents Associations protested in front of the Parliament building. They pointed to the decades-old problem they have in the struggle to exercise their rights and to clarify the truth regarding their suspicion that their babies were stolen from the maternity ward.

According to the Associations of Missing Babies Parents, between 6.000 and 10.000 newborns have been falsely declared dead in Serbian maternity hospitals in the last 40 years. The parents claim they have evidence that their children were pronounced dead at the maternity ward and then sold on the black market.
On the last day of February, the Serbian Government approved a long-awaited law. The Government made additional amendments that included forming a special commission with the parent's associations representatives and a guarantee that cases could be reopened if new evidence surfaces.

Some parents who contacted European number for missing children in Serbia, now see the possibility of taking specific steps, monitoring the implementation of the law and the work of the special commission. All of this was not possible until now due to the absence of regulation. But they are not happy with this solution, some are confused, and some are upset and angry. Recently one mother contacted ASTRA and said: "I am distraught with this news, I have a feeling like the government want to deceive me, divert attention from my struggle, but as long as I'm alive, I'm going to seek the truth, it can't be taken from me". She felt like the Government wanted to pay her the price for her missing child, not to help her find out the truth.

To clarify, one of the articles of this law allows the court to decide that it is impossible to determine the status of a missing child. After that, it is only for the court to determine compensation for the injured party, i.e. parents, up to a maximum of € 10,000. However, parents of missing babies are not interested in money and find this offer offensive; they are interested in what happened to their children, where they were sold, whether they are dead or alive.

Some parents are sceptical, and they don't believe that the Government have honest and robust will to find the solution and to correct the great injustice committed to children and their parents.

ASTRA will continue to follow missing babies cases and support parents in their quests for the truth. As consultants, we strive to inform them about their rights and legal options and to be there for them when they need moral support. We will also monitor the implementation of the new Law of Missing Babies and report about it to the international human rights organisations and institution.

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