Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively.
Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While the law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers, the government did not enforce the law effectively. Media outlets reported that through late June, 11 women had been killed in family/partnership violence. From November 2018 to October, the Ministry of Justice registered 64,335 victims of violence. In 73 percent of cases (47,136 persons) the victims were women, and in 27 percent (17,199 persons) cases the victims were men.
The law provides that authorities may protect domestic violence survivors by temporarily removing the perpetrator from a home from a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. This law requires that police, prosecutors’ offices, courts, and social welfare centers maintain an electronic database on individual cases of family violence and undertake emergency and extended measures. NGOs criticized the government’s lack of a single electronic database on gender-based violence and femicide despite a legal obligation to have them. Women’s groups and independent institutions reported that fear from reprisal and lack of trust in institutions were the main obstacles to women reporting instances of violence. NGOs called for authorities to take urgent action to provide accommodation for women who leave abusers and hence lose shelter. The NGOs Autonomous Women’s Center (AWC) and Joint Action Roof over One’s Head warned that women who could not provide alternative accommodation and quality of life for themselves and their children were at greater risk of becoming victims of violence and not reporting violence and its perpetrators. The AWC noted that less than one-third of women who received legal assistance from the organization reported having shared or exclusive ownership of the residence where they lived.
The ombudsman stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the risk of violence against women with disabilities, older women, women in rural areas, and Romani women. In May, Ana Ilic was killed in front of her apartment in Valjevo. Her former partner, an unnamed former police officer, was suspected in her killing and had previously stalked Ilic. The man had previously been given a suspended sentence, banned from approaching and communicating with Ilic, and was removed from his police job. He committed suicide the day after Ilic’s killing.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women and men is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve domestic abuse or a power relationship, and for up to one year for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. According to women’s groups in the country, sexual innuendo in everyday speech and behavior was perceived as a joke and generally accepted as a form of communication and not considered serious harassment.
The former mayor of Brus, Milutin Jelicic, who was sentenced in 2020 to three months in prison for sexually harassing Marija Lukic in the country’s first prominent prosecution of a powerful individual for harassment, served his sentence and was released.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
According to a 2018 UN report on sexual and reproductive rights in the country, women with disabilities and Romani women lacked equal and equitable access to information regarding reproductive health. There were no legal barriers to contraception. According to research conducted in 2017 by the ombudsman, 4 percent of Romani girls had their first child by the age of 15 and 31 percent before the age of 18. The report also indicated that Romani women were the most vulnerable population with a maternal mortality rate 10 percent higher than average.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all areas, but the government did not always enforce these laws. Women were subject to discrimination, both at home and in the labor force, regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to employment, labor, access to credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, inheritance, and access to housing. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, women on average did more than twice as many hours of domestic work as men.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
According to the equality commissioner, Roma were subject to many types of discrimination; independent observers, and NGOs stated that systemic segregation and discrimination of Roma continued. According to the report Roma in the Republic of Serbia: Challenges of Discrimination, funded by the EU’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program, Roma usually do not report discrimination except when it is accompanied with violence. Roma perceived discrimination “as a usual life situation” and refrained from reporting it to avoid subsequent confrontation and pressure from perpetrators.
Ethnic Albanians were subject to discrimination and disproportionate unemployment. The addresses of numerous Albanians from three municipalities in southern Serbia were “passivized” (rescinded), resulting in the loss of personal documents and access to health, educational, and social services.
According to the Council of Europe’s Report on Use of Hate Speech in Media in Serbia, the use of hate speech was on the rise and many politicians and officials used offensive and inflammatory language. Roma, Albanians, and Croats were most often targeted by hate speech and discrimination. The report also noted that prosecutors often did not recognize hate speech, criminal charges were dismissed without grounds, and regulatory bodies rejected citizens’ complaints. Minister of Interior Aleksandar Vulin continued to publicly use a pejorative term for Albanians.
On November 30 during a live program, a guest commentator on TV Pink criticized an opposition leader because of her Romanian heritage and said she was an enemy of the state. The incident was widely condemned, including by President Vucic, who said individuals should not be insulted because of their nationality. On December 1, the National Regulatory Body for Electronic Media launched an investigation of TV Pink regarding this incident.
Ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac along with Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandzak complained they were underrepresented in state institutions at the local level. There were 23 National Minority Councils representing the country’s ethnic minority groups. The councils had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. New council members were seated following the 2018 minority council elections and were to serve four-year terms.
The government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against members of minority groups. The Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue supported minority communities. Its department for antidiscrimination and national minorities prepared, monitored, and analyzed the implementation of regulations and strategic documents pertaining to the advancement and protection of minority rights and supported the work of National Minority Councils. Civic education classes, offered by the government as an alternative to religion courses in secondary schools, included information on minority cultures and multiethnic tolerance.
According to the Ministry of Education and Science, 45,683 school children in elementary and secondary schools (5.6 percent of all schoolchildren in the country) received education in their mother tongue. There were no textbooks in the Albanian language for secondary school students.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from a child’s parents. The law on birth records provides for universal birth registration. Some Romani children were not registered at birth. Subsequent birth registration was possible but complicated (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). Children who were not registered did not have access to public services, such as health care, education, and social welfare. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 99.9 percent of children overall and 98.5 percent of Romani children were registered at birth.
Education: Education was free through the secondary level, but compulsory only from preschool through the age of 15. Ethnic discrimination and economic hardship discouraged some children from attending school. In Romani and poor rural communities, girls were more likely than boys to drop out of school and normally did so at an earlier age. Romani children were also disproportionately identified as having mental or intellectual disabilities and were often sent to segregated schools that limited their educational outcomes. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 92 percent of Romani children enrolled in elementary school and 64 percent completed it, while only 28 percent continued to secondary education, and only 61 percent of that group completed it. Access to and quality of education differed in urban and rural areas, often disadvantaging rural students.
By law ethnic minority populations have the right to be educated in their minority language, but this right was not always respected.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse with penalties for the offense ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to research and reports, children were exposed to direct and interpersonal violence, physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and neglect within family, schools, institutions for protection of children, digital space, and the wider community. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 45 percent of children younger than age 14 suffered abuse in their family; in Romani communities, 67 percent of children younger than 14 suffered abuse. According to the Justice Ministry, 1,715 children were registered from 2017 to 2020 as either victims or at risk of becoming victims of family violence. Children also suffered violence stemming from existing patriarchal social structures that enabled marginalization of children and made them vulnerable to child abuse, discrimination, child marriage, and child labor.
Children in historically marginalized groups, such as Roma, suffered various types of social exclusion and were more prone to marginalization. The country’s efforts to prevent child abuse largely focused on protection of victims rather than prevention of child abuse through targeted intervention; these programs included training for police, schools, and social workers as well as hotlines and other platforms for reporting violence.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court may allow a minor older than 16 to marry if the minor is mature enough to “enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of marriage.” Child marriages occurred in Romani communities but were not legal marriages. The National Statistical Bureau reported that 16 percent of Romani women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married for the first time before age 16 and 56 percent before age 19.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and practices related to child pornography; the government enforced the law but abuses nonetheless occurred. Evidence was limited, and the extent of the problem was unknown. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
Displaced Children: According to local NGOs and media reports, an estimated 2,000 homeless children lived on Belgrade’s streets.
Institutionalized Children: Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of neglect and physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians and of sexual abuse by their peers. The law on social protection prioritizes the deinstitutionalization of children, including those with mental or physical disabilities, and their placement in foster families, but the country had not adopted a comprehensive deinstitutionalization strategy.
According to the Disabilities Rights International Serbia branch (MDRI-S), 80 percent of institutionalized children were those with developmental disabilities, and 79 percent of children remained in institutions for more than 10 years, with death being the main cause of ‘leaving’ the institution. The MDRI-S report Serbia’s Forgotten Children, released in June and based on findings from 2019, alleged numerous ongoing violations of children’s rights and inhuman living conditions in social welfare institutions and the lack of government measures to sanction those responsible for the abuse, neglect, and inhuman treatment.
Children with disabilities who were housed in institutions faced additional problems, including isolation, neglect, and a lack of stimulation. In one institution, MDRI-S researchers reported finding approximately 100 children, mostly with cerebral palsy, lying in metal beds with bars and only able to leave when they were bathed and fed. The report also noted that some institutes used tube feeding despite the risks it posed if used for extended periods. Institutions were often overcrowded, and children were mixed with adults in the same facility. Most children with mental disabilities remained excluded from the educational system due to structural obstacles and prevalent discrimination that prevented them from entering formal education.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country identified as Jewish. The World Jewish Congress estimated the number of Jews in the country to be between 1,400 and 2,800. While the law prohibits hate speech, Jewish community leaders reported that translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from ultranationalist groups and conservative publishers. Anti-Semitic works, such as the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were available for purchase from informal sellers or used bookshops or posted online. Right-wing groups maintained several websites and individuals hosted chat rooms (although many were inactive) that openly promoted anti-Semitic ideas and literature. In May posters with anti-Semitic content appeared in downtown Belgrade. The Federation of Jewish Communities filed charges with the public prosecutor and Ministry of Interior against the unknown perpetrator. The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue condemned the incident and called on citizens to demonstrate zero tolerance for hate and anti-Semitism in the country. In June an anti-Semitic message was written on a basketball playground in the Novi Beograd municipality in Belgrade, but authorities have not found the perpetrator.
In February 2020 the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism. Holocaust education continued to be a part of the school curriculum at the direction of the Ministry of Education, including in the secondary school curriculum. The role of the collaborationist National Salvation government run by Milan Nedic during the occupation by Nazi Germany was debated. Some commentators continued to seek to minimize and reinterpret the role of the national collaborators’ movements during World War II and their role in the Holocaust.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with disabilities were unable to access education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services on an equal basis with others. Laws requiring such access exist, but the government did not enforce them. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and a lack of information. In April the government adopted an Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy to Improve the Status of Persons with Disabilities for 2021-2022. The plan focuses on promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities; equal rights and protection from discrimination, violence, and abuse; inclusion from the perspective of persons with disabilities in child adoption; and the implementation and monitoring of public policies. The EC’s Serbia 2021 Report noted continued government delays in adopting a strategy on deinstitutionalization and a law to protect persons with mental disabilities in social welfare institutions.
In May the equality commissioner stated that persons with disabilities filed the highest number of complaints and highlighted accessibility as the biggest issue in their daily lives. Information and communication in formats accessible to persons with sensory disabilities was also problem. A high number of persons with disabilities were poor or at risk of becoming poor, had difficulty getting a job, and lacked adequate education.
The law requires all public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but public transportation and many older public buildings were not accessible. Many children and adults with intellectual disabilities remained in institutions, sometimes restrained or isolated. According to UNICEF, children with developmental disabilities were accommodated in institutions for long periods and often together with adults. Three of four children in institutions (73.9 percent) had developmental disabilities.
During the 2020-21 school year, there were 18,319 children with disabilities in elementary schools in the country. Of these, 15,184 attended regular schools and 3,135 attended schools dedicated for those with disabilities. There were 2,356 students with disabilities in secondary schools; 670 attended regular schools and 1,686 attended schools dedicated for those with disabilities. Some NGOs observed that schoolteachers were not trained to work with children with developmental disabilities and did not have professional assistance from trained individuals who could help them learn how to approach work with these children.
The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Issues; the Ministry of Education; and the Ministry of Health had sections with responsibilities to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor had a broad mandate to engage with NGOs, distribute social assistance, manage residential institutions, and monitor laws to provide protection for the rights of persons with disabilities.
The National Employment Agency funded several employment programs for persons with disabilities.
According to government officials and NGOs, there was significant prejudice against persons with HIV or AIDS in all aspects of public life, including employment, housing, and access to public services. Access to medical treatment was hampered due to COVID-19. The National Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health urged the Health Ministry and directors of Infectious Diseases clinics to find ways to continue with regular checkups for persons with HIV, which had stopped since the beginning of the pandemic. The center noted that the lack of regular medical oversight of and treatment for patients with HIV and information on (dis)continuation of therapy and its effects presented a risk for the individual and public health. According to the country’s Public Health Institute, there were 4,217 individuals with diagnosed HIV infection in the country. Since the beginning of the year, 120 persons had been diagnosed with HIV. The equality commissioner’s reports noted that persons with HIV or AIDS were extremely vulnerable to discrimination but were often unwilling to submit a complaint, making the scale of the problem difficult to define.
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, sex characteristics and gender identity, the law does not describe specific areas in which discrimination is prohibited but was generally interpreted as applying to housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, and violence and discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community were serious problems. According to available research, most LGBTQI+ persons experienced psychological problems, physical attacks, problems in family and school, in employment, public spaces, and institutions. They also reported suffering from depression, anxiety, and receiving death threats.
NGOs stated that members of the LGBTQI+ community were exposed to threats, violence, discrimination, marginalization, and rejection but also noted a positive change in public perception of LGBTQI+ persons. Research by the civil rights NGOs Geten and the Center for Rights of LGBT Persons, respectively, noted increased support for the protection of the community from discrimination and violence and the adoption of gender identity laws. On May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, the ombudsman stated that existing laws needed to be amended and new laws adopted to allow members of the LGBTQI + community to fully enjoy their rights, including legal regulation of adjusting sex and gender identity. On May 27, the antidiscrimination law was amended to include recognition of sex characteristics as a basis for the prohibition of discrimination.
In response to a recommendation from the commissioner for equality, the Health Ministry removed persons with a history of homosexual relations from the list of “banned” donors of reproductive cells and embryos. NGOs noted that despite this positive step, discrimination against gay and bisexual men continued as persons who self-declared as engaging in anal sex remained banned as donors. In 2018 the courts issued their first verdict under the country’s hate-crime provisions. Hate crimes are not stand-alone offenses but can be deemed an aggravating factor to be considered during sentencing. The case involved multiple episodes of domestic violence perpetrated against a gay man by his father in the family home. The perpetrator received a three-year suspended sentence. Activists criticized the sentence as being too light because the perpetrator would not serve prison time if he met the conditions of his suspended sentence.
The annual Belgrade Pride parade was held on September 18 without the incidents of violence that had marred previous parades. Right-wing organizations held a protest march in which individuals shouted slurs against the LGBTQI+ community and burned rainbow flags, but police prevented them from interfering with the Pride Parade. On three separate occasions during Belgrade’s September 14-20 Pride Week, the office of an organization whose members participated in Pride Week events was vandalized with spray-painted homophobic slurs and Nazi symbols.