Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, 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. According to the Ministry of Interior, 25 women were killed in domestic violence through August 15. The number of victims of domestic violence for the first four months of the year doubled compared with the same period in 2017. In May Jelena Grbic was killed in the Kosjeric municipality in front of her three minor children. Her alleged killer and common law partner, Ivan Radovanovic, was arrested, indicted for aggravated murder, and is currently in pretrial confinement. The alleged killer had previously been convicted of domestic violence. According to the Ministry of the Interior, seven men were also killed in family violence through July 25.
The Law on the Prevention of Family Violence strengthens protective measures for domestic violence victims 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.
Women’s groups were critical of the implementation of the law, citing lack of precision in statistical reporting as well as very few actual detentions.
Throughout 2017 and the first half of the year, the Justice Ministry conducted training for prosecutors, police officers, and centers for social welfare on the implementation of the law.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of men and women 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. The Autonomous Woman’s Center published polling data indicating that one in three women in the country has experienced unwanted physical contact, and 80 percent of the young men and women have been sexually harassed. While the legal framework was generally in place, the law was rarely enforced and did not provide an adequate deterrent to prevent sexual harassment. In October, the police charged a man with sexually harassing and inappropriately touching a teenage girl who was riding public transportation in Belgrade. Woman’s organizations contended that cases of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching were rarely investigated.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all areas, including family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, but the government did not always enforce these laws. Women were discriminated against both at home and in the labor force; in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process and housing. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, women did an average of over twice as many hours of domestic work as men.
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.d., Stateless Persons). Children who were not registered did not have access to public services, such as health care.
Education: Education was free through the secondary level, but compulsory only from preschool through age 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.
Child Abuse: There are laws prohibiting child abuse, and the penalties ranged from two to 10 years of imprisonment. According to research and reports, children were exposed to direct and interpersonal violence, physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and neglect. Children in the country also suffered structural violence, stemming from existing patriarchal social structures that enabled marginalization; this problem was manifested through different types of 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. According to the ombudsman, one-third of complaints filed with his office had to do with child abuse. Serbia’s efforts to prevent child abuse have largely focused on protection of victims rather than prevention of child abuse through targeted intervention; these programs have included training for police, schools, and social workers as well as hotlines and other platforms for reporting violence.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court can 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 these marriages were not legal marriages, and statistics on their prevalence did not exist. Romani activists anecdotally reported a decline in number of child marriages, but this decline could not be verified.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, to include selling, offering, or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography; the government enforced the law, but, nonetheless, these activities 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 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 developmental problems, and their placement in foster families. Children with disabilities who were housed in institutions faced problems including isolation, neglect, and a lack of stimulation. Institutions were often overcrowded, and children were mixed with adults in the same facility. The Mental Disability Rights Initiative Serbia expressed concern over the violation of rights of institutionalized children, noting that 60 percent of institutionalized children with disabilities were excluded from the educational system.
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.html.
According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country identified as Jewish. 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 literature was available in some bookstores, and the Jewish community reported incidents of anti-Semitic comments in online media.
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 Nazi occupation 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. On July 11, the High Court in Belgrade ruled against the rehabilitation of wartime Prime Minister Milan Nedic, holding that the petition to the court by his family and several organizations representing political prisoners and victims of the communist regime was unfounded. The court document stated that the presumption that “Milan Nedic was arrested without any court or administrative decision and was a victim of persecution for political or ideological reasons” was groundless.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and supporting laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government did not enforce these laws effectively. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and a lack of information. The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality’s 2017 annual report highlighted a case in which the city of Zajecar failed to provide a personal assistant to a disabled schoolchild in accordance with the child’s individual support plan.
Persons with disabilities were exposed to discrimination in almost every aspect of life, including access to justice, health services, education, employment, and political participation. The 2017 annual report by the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality noted that 20 percent of all complaints filed with the office were cases of discrimination on disability grounds. According to the report, as a category women with disabilities experienced the most severe multiple discrimination. According to the World Health Organization, persons with disabilities represented 15 percent of the country’s population. 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.
The law also prohibits physical, emotional, and verbal abuse in schools. NGOs and journalists reported that thousands of children with disabilities (institutionalized and noninstitutionalized) were not enrolled in school.
The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Issues, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health had sections with responsibilities to protect 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 labor minister told media on May 17 that his ministry’s priority was to develop partner relations with disability organizations and provide expert and financial support to associations that implement programs that promote rights of persons with disabilities.
According to the National Employment Agency (NEA), the number of unemployed persons with disabilities in early June was approximately 15,500; approximately 6,500 persons with disabilities registered with NEA became employed in 2017. The agency had a budget of 550 million dinars ($5.29 million) for the employment of persons with disabilities.
The media reported that 51 companies throughout the country employed 5,000 persons with disabilities. The trade union Nezavisnost reported in September that persons with disabilities who worked for several companies employing persons with disabilities were receiving salaries under 16,000 dinars per month ($154), which was below the national minimum wage (approximately $240).
According to the commissioner for the protection of equality, Roma were subject to discrimination in many ways; independent observers and NGOs stated that systemic segregation and discrimination of Roma continued. A Human Rights Defender’s report noted that Roma often considered such treatment normal and noted that hate crimes against Roma were not prosecuted. According to the report, a significant number of Romani citizens were without personal documents and experienced discrimination in the labor market and in schools. The report condemned the situation as “particularly appalling” in housing, health, and access to justice.
National Minority Councils (NMC) represented the country’s ethnic minority groups and had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. Amendments to the Law on National Minority Councils and the Law on Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities were adopted on June 20. On November 4, regular elections were held for national minority council seats; 22 of Serbia’s 23 recognized national minorities participated in these elections; the Jewish NMC elects leadership on a different cycle in accordance with its bylaws.
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.
According to the director of the Government Office for Human and Minority Rights, more than 60,000 minority schoolchildren attended education in their mother tongue. The government made some progress in approving new mother tongue textbooks, although not all the textbooks in minority languages were available at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.
The government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against minorities. The stand-alone government Office for Human and Minority Rights supported minority communities. Civic education classes, offered by the government as an alternative to religion courses in secondary schools, included information on minority cultures and multiethnic tolerance.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the law does not describe specific areas in which discrimination is prohibited but is 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 LGBTI community were serious problems. Transgender individuals were not permitted to update legal identity documents to reflect their gender identity unless they had undergone sex reassignment surgery.
According to civil society organizations, there were 500,000 LGBTI persons in the country. Credible NGOs noted a lack of significant progress in establishing dialogue, educating the public on LGBTI issues, and addressing hate crimes and bias-motivated violence.
According to NGOs, activists, and independent institutions, discrimination against members of the LGBTI community continued. The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality found that LGBTI persons seldom reported instances of violence and discrimination because they lacked trust in relevant institutions, and feared stigmatization and secondary victimization. Data available from a number of research papers and reports indicated that homophobia and transphobia were deeply rooted in society.
According to data from the Equal Rights Association, 26 percent of the country’s population would cease contact with a person if they learned that person was LGBTI; 38 percent of population believed that homosexuality was a disease; 48 percent of parents would try medical treatment for their LGBTI child; 70 percent opposed the right of an LGBTI person to inherit the property of their deceased partner, and 90 percent opposed child adoption by LGBTI persons. The NGO Let It Be Known recorded eight hate crimes involving violence against LGBTI persons from January through November 2017. The organization also reported 11 cases of psychological violence and threats, five cases of hate speech, and two discriminatory incidents during the study period.
On April 29, a transgender person was severely injured in an attack in front of a Belgrade nightclub. Police identified three of five attackers, two of whom were minors, and filed criminal charges against them. Police also initiated internal control procedures against a police officer for unprofessional conduct when the survivor was reporting the attack at the police station.
In October a man who attacked a transgender woman in 2014 was sentenced to one year of probation. Activists criticized the sentence as being too light, because the attacker was not prosecuted under a provision of the criminal code that mandates harsher punishment for hate crimes.
On September 16, the Belgrade Pride parade was held for a fifth consecutive year after police stopped several dozen counterprotesters walking towards the parade route; no security incidents were reported. Police shut a portion of central Belgrade to secure the route and prevent harassment of the nearly 1,000 participants who marched through central Belgrade. The law enforcement presence was significantly less than in previous years. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, other ministers, and Belgrade’s mayor attended the march. Organizers of Pride Week demanded the protection of human rights of LGBTI individuals.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
According to government officials and NGOs, there was significant prejudice against persons with HIV/AIDS in all aspects of public life, including employment, housing, and access to public services. According to a survey performed by the Union of Persons Living with HIV and Aids of Serbia, 92 percent of Serbians have a discriminatory attitude towards persons living with HIV/AIDS. The commissioner for protection’s 2017 annual report noted that the majority of persons with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their health status to anyone besides their attending physician, and only approximately half of persons with HIV/AIDS disclosed their status to family members. The government adopted a strategy for prevention and control of HIV/AIDS for 2018-25 that promotes the protection from discrimination and human rights of persons with HIV/AIDS.