Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. The law on birth records provides for universal birth registration. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), however, 5 percent of Romani children were not registered at birth. Subsequent birth registration is possible but complicated. Children who are not registered do not have access to public services such as health care.
Education: Education was free through secondary school but compulsory only through primary school. Cultural norms, ethnic discrimination, and economic hardship discouraged some children from attending school. In Romani and some other minority communities, and in poor rural communities, girls were more likely to leave primary school than were boys.
Medical Care: The law mandates free medical care to children until the age of 18 through their employed parents. Although the law provides that all children should have access to health care regardless of whether their parents’ employers – private or state-owned companies – paid mandatory contributions, problems continued. While medical examinations were granted to children, obtaining prescribed drugs was a problem because pharmacies refused to accept prescriptions without a stamped medical card from the national Health Care Fund. Additionally, hospitals did not reimburse the costs of treatment for children without a medical card.
Child Abuse: Children often were victims of family violence, particularly in cases when they tried to defend their mothers from abuse, and peer violence among children was on the rise. Girls were more likely to be victims of sexual violence than were boys.
According to a survey circulated by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, 23 percent of students reported having experienced violence from teachers, a problem believed to be more prevalent in secondary schools. While teachers were instructed to report suspected child abuse cases, they often did not do so.
Police usually responded to complaints, and authorities prosecuted child abuse cases during the year. Psychological and legal assistance was available for victims. Children also were accommodated in safe houses for victims of family violence.
Forced and Early Marriage: The rate of child marriage among the general population was low. The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court can allow a minor who is older than 16 but younger than 18 to marry if the minor is mature enough to “enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of marriage.” Child marriage was a problem in some communities, particularly among Roma and in rural areas of the southern and eastern parts of the country. In the Romani community, boys and girls generally married between the ages of 14 and 18, with 16 as the average age. Boys generally married a few years later than girls, and some girls married as early as age 12. Nearly 44 percent of Romani women in the 15-19 age group were married or in union, compared with only 19 percent of Romani men in the same age group. Child marriage occurred among individuals from all economic and social backgrounds.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, regardless of sexual orientation or gender. The criminal code sets penalties for statutory rape ranging from three to 12 years in prison. If statutory rape is qualified as particularly severe, punishment ranges from five to 15 years’ imprisonment. If the rape results in the victim’s death, the minimum sentence is 10 years in prison. News reports documented that in recent years judges began to impose more stringent penalties in general for rapists of children. Some articles mentioned sentences of four and one-half, six, and seven years.
The law prohibits child pornography. Using a child to produce pornographic material or for a pornographic show is punishable by six months to five years in prison. Selling, showing, exhibiting, or otherwise making child pornography available publicly, including electronically is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. The Global Child Protection Network (ECPAT) noted, however, that the country had no specific child protection law. Most provisions protecting children against sexual exploitation were included in the criminal code, and observers noted that the country’s child pornography law was not fully consistent with relevant international and regional standards.
Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians, and of sexual abuse by peers.
Displaced Children: According to local NGOs and media reports, some 2,000 children lived on Belgrade’s streets, most of whom were not registered at birth. The government did not provide any systematic support for these children. The NGO Center for Youth Integration (CIM) operated the only 24-hour drop-in shelter where children could clean up, eat, rest, and play, and where they received clothes and shoes if needed. The CIM’s professional staff and volunteers provided psychological and educational support. City authorities’ failure to pay CIM’s operating expenses on time, as promised, put the shelter in danger of having to shut down several times during the year. There were only three shelters for street children in the entire country: in Belgrade, Nis, and Novi Sad. Street children continued to earn small amounts of income for their families by begging, collecting scrap metal, window washing at major crossroads, or protecting cars near bars at night. They had no legal protection.
Institutionalized Children: The law on social protection places priority on the deinstitutionalization of institutionalized children, including children with developmental problems, and their placement in foster families. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Policy implemented a pilot project supported by a private foundation and UNICEF in Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, and Kragujevac. The three-year project used “family assistants” to mediate between family members, help them find solutions, and teach them financial management skills. According to UNICEF, approximately 1,200 children remained institutionalized and approximately 5,000 children lived with foster families.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For country-specific information see the Department of State’s report at http://travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/country/serbia.html.