Protection of missing children

by ASTRA - Anti trafficking action (ASTRA - Akcija protiv trgovine ljudima)
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Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children
Protection  of missing children

There has been almost no progress since last year as far as 116 000 Missing children hotline is concerned. Citizens are still calling Missing children European number regarding this problem.

State institutions who are competent, and are supposed to be in charge of this matter, have not been as nearly involved as they should be, and as time passed, consequences of their negligence were beginning to show.

One of the problems was that, during the first two waves of the COVID 19 virus, no relevant indicators were set so people could monitor them and spot extreme values or a rise in some indicators.

A couple of months ago, we received a call via 116 000 Missing children hotline from a mother who no longer knew whom to turn to. She felt and still feels rejected by the competent institutions.

Namely, she called about her minor daughter, who ran away from home on several occasions.

Her daughter began to change her behavior significantly when she was exposed to messages and photos she received through various social networks. However, she is starting to spend more and more time with adults from a criminal environment, which her mother is unable to influence or fight for, even though she seeks the support of competent services. The mother reported her disappearance to the police and the Center for Social Work on several occasions, but in order for the police to find her, the girl would run away again very quickly.

She is afraid that some of the adults her daughter hangs out with may take advantage of her or/and exploit her, especially because they were previously known to the police for the various crimes they committed. Also, she lost her confidence in the competent institutions because no one gives her full feedback about her situation.

We are in daily communication with her, and we encouraged her to contact us whenever she needs our support.

During this period, we contacted the Police, Prosecution Office, and the Center for Social Work. We sent them a letter regarding this case and that they should urgently take steps within their competence so that the girl can be found, adequately cared for as soon as possible and so that she can be provided with further support for healthy and functional development in a safe environment.

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We are all aware that COVID 19 pandemic will have consequences on children’s lives in various aspects. First of all, they have to understand why is important to wear a mask, and not to be so close to friends or hug them, but on the same time, they need to keep playing together, studying together, and all those “normal” things for a toddlers or adolescents.

After adapting to changes that were made regarding schools (in Serbia, most of schools divided certain amount of study hours between online and offline work in such a way that one group goes to school for one week the other attends the same lecture, and afterwards they switch.), the way free time and family life were to be organized, remained an individual choice. It all sounded so simple in the beginning: children would get up from bed, have breakfast, listen a lecture on TV, do their homework and that would be it. Very soon, first problems came across. For instance, not all families have all the technical possibilities required, and more importantly, not all families have to whom to entrust their children.

Last month one single mother called the 116 000 hotline, as she was afraid that her 15-year-old daughter is taking drugs. Moreover, she was sure that she would escape home very soon. She was that terrified, that she opened a sick leave in order to stay home and take care of her daughter. She told us that her daughter never acted like that before, that she is very quiet, she locks her door, listens to sad music, and seems absent.

The first time she called, she described their relationship as intense, complex and full of negativity. It was a tough year for the mother-daughter relationship. Besides issues related to COVID 19 pandemic, Ana, her daughter, changed schools as they moved from an old neighbourhood in order to be closer to school. Tina herself, was under a lot of pressure at work, she was working as a shift manager in one big supermarket and they were overwhelmed when the pandemic started. Once we asked her how her daughter feel regarding the new school, she answered “I don’t really now”. When we asked does Ana have any new friends at school or the new neighbourhood, she answered:” I am not sure”.

Once we started talking a little bit about her and how does she feel regarding all those changes and events she started to cry and said that all this was simply too much for her. Soon, together we realised that she never mentioned that to Ana, and that they had never talked to each other about feelings and everything they went through this year. We agreed that in the next couple of days they need to sit and talk about everything that is going on in their life. Without any preconceptions and insinuation, just a regular chat.

During that same week, as they both were home for almost 24 hours per day, they fought, cried, laughed and finally talked to each other. It turned out that Ana was also worried for her mom because she was so busy and preoccupied with work, and she was afraid that something could happen to her. She did not want to cause her any additional problems so it was easier to be quiet and wait for pandemic to end. Except it did not end, it got worse. In addition, Ana missed her friends from the old neighbourhood, but she did not know whether she could go to see them because maybe it was too risky due to COVID 19. Tina explained her that their lives could not stop as they wait for pandemic to be over, they needed to take care and protect themselves as much as possible, but also to get on with their regular daily activities. Also, they talked about their feelings regarding all the changed that were made and agreed that this was one weird year, but it is easier when they have each other.

It comes to our attention that changes are difficult but inevitable, and most of all, they should be regarded as an opportunity to learn and grow. Nowadays, when everything is happening so quickly, everyday life is filled with stress, and mostly you do not have time to stop and think about choices you make. But we asked ourselves and we ask all of you, is it possible to set aside one hour per day and sit with people you love and talk to them, ask them how are they doing and how do they feel?

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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.

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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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When Suzana first called us, we were not sure if we could help her. Her niece, Olivera, had troubles at school. She is 11 years old and she is in the fifth grade. Olivera has three lowest grades from different subjects, reprimand of the class teacher and many unattended classes without due justification. Also, she often threats that she would quit school and run away from home.

During a few phone calls with Suzana, we realized that there is an obvious reason explaining this kind of behavior. Olivera went through a very difficult transitional period over the last few months and in all that time everyone did what they thought “it is the best for her“, but no one really asked her what were her wishes, her needs.

Olivera’s parents divorced recently and since then she lived with her dad, Marko. Meanwhile, her mom re-married and had a baby. Three months ago, Marko had to go to work abroad since he lost his job in Serbia, so Olivera went to live with her mother and her new family. Additionally, she changed school, so everything was new and unfamiliar to her. She did not fit into her new class, she did not make any friends and she started to skip school. Her classmates bullied her, she could not keep up with class readings and she had not had whom to ask for help. Her teacher did not seem to care is there a bigger problem that is bothering Olivera, so she just kept giving her bad grades as a „learning lesson“.

We suggested Suzana that as a first step she should talk to Olivera, sincerely and without criticizing her. Instead, she should just ask her what seems to be wrong and offer her help. Also, we pointed out how important is to trust Olivera and support her.

As soon as they started communicating, and treating Olivera’s problems with due seriousness and respect, things proved to be quite clear. Olivera explained how the current situation is quite difficult for her – her father is away, she does not have her old bedroom, she is feeling like a stranger in her mother’s new home and the workload at school is hard to keep up with. Secondly, we supported Suzana in her idea of a joint visit of Olivera, her mother and herself to the teachers in order to ask for support. Additionally, as a sort of a „midterm solution“, we connected them with an organization who are specialized in providing support to children and their parents.

Currently, Olivera regularly attends school and she studies on a daily bases with the help of her aunt, as well as with those of her mom and her teachers. Now when she talks about her mom’s new family she considers herself as being a part of it. She still misses her dad and cannot wait for him to get back from abroad.

Of course, this family, has a lot of work to do, but, for all those stories who are similar with this one, the key message is: do not forget to ask your kids how they are feeling what is it that you could do in order to help them?

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Project Leader:
Marija Andjelkovic
Belgrade, Serbia
$622 raised of $10,000 goal
17 donations
$9,378 to go
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