Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Advocates believed that only a small percentage of rape victims reported their attacks because of fear of reprisal from their attackers or humiliation in court.
Violence against women continued to be a problem. 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. Domestic violence cases were difficult to prosecute because of the lack of witnesses or evidence and the unwillingness of witnesses or victims to testify. While authorities generally acknowledged high levels of domestic violence, there were no reliable statistics on the extent of the problem. On November 23, parliament passed the Law on Prevention of Family Violence. The law strengthens protective measures for domestic violence victims by temporarily removing the perpetrator from the home for a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. Implementation of the law was scheduled to begin in June 2017.
According to media reports, through October family violence had claimed the lives of 24 women. In August the ombudsman established that, in 12 of 14 reported cases of killings of women, the relevant institutions failed to respond to reported violence against the women prior to the incident. The ombudsman alleged that there were attempts to cover up these failures by authorities. According to the Autonomous Women’s Center in 2015, an estimated 1,200 women moved to safe houses throughout the country while only 71 perpetrators were removed from their residences. According to the commissioner for the protection of equality, the majority of cases filed with that institution dealt with discrimination against women.
The few official agencies dedicated to combatting family violence had inadequate resources. In 2015 there were 14 safe houses for women in operation, most operated by NGOs. In a few cases, local municipalities contributed financial support. All safe houses also accommodated the children of the women in residence. According to the assessments of NGOs, women returned to their abuser from seven to 11 times before making the final decision to leave. Some safe houses reported that up to half of their resident victims returned to their abuser.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve abuse or a power relationship and for up to one year for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Public awareness of the problem remained low, and women filed few complaints during the year.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but the government did not always respect these laws in practice. Women experienced widespread discrimination in employment, access to credit, wages, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’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 are not registered do 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 likely to quit school earlier than boys.
Child Abuse: Children were often victims of family violence, and there were a growing number of reports of child victims of parental neglect. In 2015 the Centers for Social Work removed 50 children from their families, either because of neglect or labor exploitation. According to Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin, during the same period the Centers for Social Work reported 2,890 cases of child neglect and/or exploitation. The University Children’s Hospital maintained a team for protection of children from abuse and neglect. According to data from the clinic, the national health system in 2015 registered 634 instances of child abuse and 201 of child neglect.
The media reported it was easier for authorities to act in cases of obvious physical abuse. Police usually responded to complaints, and authorities prosecuted child abuse cases during the year. Psychological and legal assistance was available for victims. Children were accommodated in safe houses for victims of family violence.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court can allow a minor 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.” While the rate of early and forced marriage of children among the general population was low, it was a problem in some communities, including among some Romani communities and in rural areas of the southern and eastern parts of the country. The most recent census, conducted in 2011, suggested that early marriage occurred among individuals from a variety of economic and social backgrounds. In the Romani community, boys and girls generally married between the ages of 14 and 18, with 16 as the average. Boys generally married a few years later than girls, and some girls married as early as age 12. Nearly 44 percent of Romani girls in the 15-19 age group were married or in a long-term relationship, compared with only 19 percent of Romani boys in the same age group.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: While the law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and the government enforced the law, commercial sexual exploitation and the use of children in production of pornography occurred. Evidence of these activities 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. Most of these children were not registered at birth, and the government did not provide them any systematic support.
UNHCR reported that 3,094 unaccompanied minor migrants or asylum seekers (predominantly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan) had entered the country during the year. The whereabouts of these unaccompanied children was not known, as the government did not track migrant or asylum seeker departures. The government grants guardianship of unaccompanied minors to social welfare centers, but most minors chose to transit the country with other families when they were able to do so.
Institutionalized Children: Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians and of sexual abuse by peers. The law on social protection places priority on 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 and were mixed with adults in the same facility. According to government data, nearly 80 percent of children in institutions in the country in 2014 had disabilities and, according to NGO reports, approximately 70 percent of children with intellectual disabilities were placed in institutions. In June Human Rights Watch released a report on children with disabilities in institutions that found they received inappropriate medication and psychiatric treatments, lacked privacy, and had limited or no access to education. Approximately 60 percent of children with disabilities in institutions were not enrolled in schools, according to government figures. Those who were enrolled attended schools exclusively for children with disabilities.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country declared themselves to be Jewish. While the law prohibits hate speech, translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from ultranationalist groups and conservative publishers. Anti-Semitic books were widely available in bookshops. Right-wing youth groups and internet forums continued to promote anti-Semitism and use hate speech against the Jewish community.
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 national collaborators’ movements during World War II and their role in the Holocaust. The court case, brought by Nedic’s family, for his rehabilitation was in progress before the Higher Court in Belgrade.
On January 27, the government organized an official commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, at which the country’s president spoke. The City of Belgrade, in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Serbia, commemorated Belgrade Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 10.
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 law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government did not enforce these laws effectively. Persons with disabilities and their families suffered from stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and the lack of information. Persons with disabilities were among the most vulnerable social groups and were marginalized with little access to education, other basic services, employment, and participation in social and political life.
The criminal code defines “sexual intercourse with a helpless person” as a crime separate from rape. Under the law, taking advantage of persons with disabilities when the person is “incapable of resistance” has a shorter minimum prison sentence than rape of a person not defined as “helpless.”
A CPT report criticized the treatment of residents at the Veternik Residential Facility for children with developmental issues (see section 1.c.). The CPT reportedly received allegations of physical mistreatment of residents by staff, consisting mainly of slaps and frequent interresident violence related in part to low staffing levels. The report also described the situation of a group of residents who were subjected to periods of prolonged mechanical fixation and seclusion and the widespread recourse by staff to psychoactive medication for residents who did not have a mental health disability. The report also noted poor material conditions and overcrowding in some wards, with some residents forced to share the same bed, and a limited range of therapeutic and occupational activities for residents.
The law provides for 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. An NGO reported 70 percent of children with intellectual disabilities were in institutions.
NGOs reported that 59 percent of polling stations for the early parliamentary elections in April were not accessible to persons with disabilities.
In February parliament amended the law on preventing discrimination against persons with disabilities to allow persons with permanent physical or sensory disabilities to sign official documents using a special seal that contains their personal data or a seal with their engraved signature.
The law also prohibits physical, emotional, and verbal abuse in schools. Children with disabilities (institutionalized and noninstitutionalized) generally attended school and, depending on parents’ preferences, could enroll in regular or special schools. Parents found that enrolling children with intellectual disabilities in regular schools was challenging and often chose to enroll their children in special schools. NGOs noted that children with disabilities faced discrimination in access to education and health care. Individualized support in education for children with disabilities was a problem because there are no clear and specified legal regulations for it.
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 labor ministry had a broad mandate to liaise with NGOs, distribute social assistance, manage residential institutions, and monitor laws to ensure protection for the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministries of Health and Education offered assistance and protection in their respective spheres.
On August 3, the Center for Independent Living signed a contract with Belgrade city authorities to provide personal assistance services for 50 individuals. The program was funded by the city of Belgrade.
Numerous observers noted the existence of a climate of hostility toward members of national and ethnic minorities. Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation was also reported. According to the 2011 census, members of these minorities constituted approximately 17 percent of the country’s population and included, in order of size, ethnic Hungarians, Roma, Bosniaks, Croats, Slovaks, Vlachs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Ashkali, Egyptians, and others. According to census figures, 21 distinct ethnic groups lived in the country.
Independent observers and NGOs stated that Roma continued to be subject to the greatest discrimination of any ethnic minority in the country. Many Roma lived in informal settlements that lacked basic services, such as water, sewage facilities, access to medical care, and schools. NGOs reported that the lack of legal regularization of housing in informal Romani communities remained a major problem that blocked the access of Roma to state services. While the educational system provided nine years of free mandatory schooling, including the year before elementary school, ethnic prejudice, cultural norms, and economic hardship prevented some Romani children, especially girls, from finishing mandatory schooling.
Bodies known as national minority councils represented the country’s ethnic minority groups and had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. Ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac and Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandzak complained they were underrepresented in state institutions at the local level. According to the European Commission progress report for 2015, the Bosniak community continued to be underrepresented in the local administration, judiciary, and police. The same report found Albanians were also underrepresented in public services. Ethnic Albanians lacked sufficient textbooks in the Albanian language for secondary education. On May 9, the Albanian National Minority Council and the Education Ministry signed an agreement to provide an adequate number of Albanian language textbooks.
The law requires all residents to record changes of residency. Authorities denied some displaced persons (mostly Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians) access to government services because they lacked regular identification documents, which could be difficult to acquire if adequate documents were not filed at birth or if the registry books with their registration were lost during the conflicts of the 1990s. To meet the address change requirement and deregister from their original addresses, displaced persons from Kosovo were required to travel to the location of relocated civil registries from Kosovo that were held in municipalities scattered throughout the country. The law provides a special court procedure for the ex post facto establishment of time and place of birth in order to facilitate subsequent civil registration.
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 multi-ethnic tolerance.
The government, with support from several international organizations, continued efforts to improve the teaching of Serbian as a nonmother tongue in Albanian-language primary schools.
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, violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTI community were serious problems.
While attacks against LGBTI individuals happened often, few were reported to authorities because victims were afraid of further harassment. During the year the NGO Egal reported 20 attacks against LGBTI persons. LGBTI activists maintained that LGBTI persons did not report many violent attacks to police because the victims did not believe the cases would be addressed properly and they wanted to avoid victimization by police and the publicity that would be generated by their complaints.
Members of the community were frequently exposed to threats and hate speech. The majority of attacks were never resolved and perpetrators never identified. NGOs stated that attacks against activists remained unsolved because of a lack of political will to punish perpetrators. LGBTI activists also claimed that the inadequate government response to violent acts against the LGBTI community encouraged perpetrators to target them for abuse. In one incident, on August 22, two men physically attacked Boban Stojanovic, one of the organizers of the Belgrade Pride event, in downtown Belgrade. Police opened an investigation but had not arrested any suspects as of year’s end.
The commissioner for the protection of equality stated that homophobia and transphobia were present in society and asked the media to report on transgender and other individuals with different sexual orientation without sensationalism and discriminatory language. She noted that some media outlets continued to report inappropriately on the subject. The ombudsman stated that public authorities and society in general needed to pay more attention to the protection and physical and psychological integrity of LGBTI persons as well as to prevent discrimination and hate speech.
There were some positive trends during the year. On September 18, the Belgrade Pride parade was held for the third year in a row to promote LGBTI rights in the country. Police, who greatly outnumbered participants in the parade, shut down a large portion of central Belgrade to secure the route and ensure there was no contact between parade participants and hooligans. Nearly 1,500 demonstrators marched through central Belgrade amid a heavy security presence of 5,000 law enforcement personnel. No security incidents were reported.
In August Ana Brnabic, an openly LGBTI businesswoman, was appointed minister for state administration and local self-government, making her the first openly LGBTI individual to serve as a government minister.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The commissioner for the protection of equality’s annual report for 2015 stated that persons with HIV/AIDS were one of the most marginalized and stigmatized social groups in the country. They suffered from discrimination in health care, work, and employment as well as from negative reactions from family and friends. NGOs reported acts of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, including job loss and harassment from neighbors. NGOs and health workers reported that some medical workers discriminated against persons with HIV/AIDS.
In May the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Developments began soliciting applications for scholarships for graduate-level students from Nonaligned Movement countries. Under the program, applicants must submit a medical certificate not older than six months confirming that the prospective student did not have a contagious disease, including HIV. The Umbrella Organization of Serbian Youth called on the ministry to revoke the requirement. The commissioner for the protection of equality issued a press statement calling on authorities to rescind the requirement for submission of a medical certificate.