In response to an increasing number of missing children and the weaknesses of the search mechanism in Serbia, ASTRA has introduced the 116000 European hotline for missing children. The goal of this hotline is to ensure immediate reaction and focus on successfully finding the child upon receiving a missing child report. This includes assistance to the police which is responsible for searches and support to the family whose child went missing.
In the case that the found child has been exploited, in ASTRA she/he can get comprehensive support in the recovery and (re)integration process. Support is provided according to the needs of every individual child, and it includes psychological, legal and medical assistance, counseling, alternative accommodation, support if a child decides to go back to school and other sorts of assistance as needed.
European hotline for missing children is available 24/7. Calls made through the landline telephone or via Vip, Telenor and MTS mobile operators are free of charge. All citizens of Serbia can contribute to efficient searches for missing children by way of following the photos and news of children who went missing and reporting if they have any knowledge about their whereabouts or some other useful information that can lead to finding the child and his/her safe return to the family.
A great number of calls received since the opening of the 11600 helpline in Serbia is in connection with the cases of newborns who went missing from maternity wards since the 1970s until today. The number of such calls plummeted after the release of an article on the Peščanik portal on the occasion of the issuance of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in case Jovanović vs Serbia (http://pescanik.net/nestale-bebe/).
It is said in this article that the European Court of Human Rights issued on March 5 and publicized on March 26, 2013 a judgment establishing that Serbia had violated right to privacy and policy life of Zorica Jovanović, the applicant.
Zorica Jovanović submitted the application not only because of a serious doubt that her son, born in 1983, did not die as she was told in the maternity ward, but also because of unbearable 30-year long silence on the part of the Republic of Serbia regarding this suspicious, unbearable tolerance of the Republic of Serbia towards obvious omissions of its public servants and inhuman (ab)use of the legal system of Serbia which led to the outcome before the European Court – the outcome which still cannot satisfy natural need of a mother to know whether her child is alive or not and if he is alive, where he is and whether he is fine.
It can be said that the facts of this trial are paradigmatic for a great number (the exact number is still not known) of suspicious newborns’ death in maternity wards in Serbia.
In his Report of July 2010, the Ombudsman stated that “(…) Having conducted investigation, the Inquiry Committee established that serious oversights were registered in the operation of the healthcare institutions, registry offices and competent ministries, which aroused reasonable doubt on the part of the parents faced in truthfulness of the information that there children had passed away after the delivery, or had been stillborn”. The Committee also emphasized the problem of statute of limitations of prosecution, which prevents establishing the truth.
The Inquiry Committee proposed the following measures:
– unblock the work of the Ministry of the Interior and judiciary;
– establish a specialized unit of the Ministry of the Interior with a mandate to comprehensively investigate all the cases where parents suspect that their children went missing from maternity wards;
– remove statute of limitations of the prosecution by amending relevant legislation;
– establish the jurisdiction of Special Prosecutor’s Office and Special Court for combating organized crime in these cases;
– conduct regular supervision of managing, storing and filing of medical records;
– clearly define procedures in case of a new-born’s death;
– regular supervision of the public registry offices’ operation;
– adopt the law on DNK register.
Report on the work of the Inquiry Committee was adopted by the National Assembly of Serbia at the third extraordinary session held on July 14 2006. The adopted Report was delivered to the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry for State Administration and Local Self-Government. (Ombudsman’s Report on the so-called Missing Babies Cases with recommendations, no. 12443 of July 29th 2010).
Besides finding that the Republic of Serbia violated right to privacy and family life of Zorica Jovanović, the applicant and mother of a baby who had gone missing in the maternity, the judgment also reads “the respondent State must, within one year from the date on which the present judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, to secure the establishment of a mechanism aimed at providing individual redress to all parents in a situation such as or sufficiently similar to the applicant’s (…)”.
By the judgment of European Court of Human Rights delivered in the case Zorica Jovanovic v Serbia, which became final on 9th of September 2013, except for individual redress to the applicant, the ECHR prescribed a general obligation on the Republic of Serbia.
According to this judgment the Republic of Serbia shall be obliged, within one year from the date of judgment’s becoming final, to take all appropriate measures to secure the establishment of a mechanism aimed at providing individual redress to all parents in a situation such as or sufficiently similar to the applicant’s.
The European Court of Human Rights has recommended in the judgment that this issue should be regulated by special law. A model of such law was designed by professor Vesna Rakić Vodinelić, the Law School of Union University and Danilo Ćurčić, lawyer from NGO Praxis in consultations with professor Vladimir Vodinelić and professor Saša Gajin.
Collecting following information in advance could be helpful during search for a missing child:
– Keep the photos of your child, if possible in digital format, and update them every 6 mouths (or even more often, if the looks of your child are changing ). Photos should be in the best possible resolution and not to be blurred, so that your child could be recognized.
– Always know where you can find dental and medical chart of your child. This could be especially useful for identification of the child.
If your child is missing, it is very important that you immediately take the following actions:
– Look at all the places where your child could be or hide or fall asleep or is not able to get out from;
– Check with cousins, neighbors, your friends or friends of your child if they know something that can help you find the child;
– If the child went missing in, for example, the shopping moll, inform the manager of the establishment and security;
– If it is an older child who went missing, ask her/his friends if he/she informed them about changing plans;
– If you haven’t found your child after taking these actions, contact the police and bring with you photos of your child preferably not older than 6 months.
Before going to police station, prepare following information:
– Name and surname of the child
– Date of birth
– High and weight
– Some other physical characteristics (glasses, braces, tattoos, etc.)
– When did you observe that your child has gone missing?
– Where and when did you see your child last time?
– What was your child wearing last time you saw him/her?
– Are there any circumstances which could cause your child to change his/her daily routine?
Consent form for parents:
Pursuant to the Law on Personal Data Protection (Official Gazette of RS, no. 97/2008 and 104/2009 – other law) which came into force in January 2009, ASTRA as data controller has taken certain measures to protect the data on missing children, and to adjust the procedures with the law. One of these measures is the introduction of the written form of consent to data processing, which child’s legal representatives should sign at the beginning of cooperation, in order to allow ASTRA to process and pass on the data.
Further, there is a separate consent form by means of which child’s legal representative agrees with publishing a poster with information about the missing child on social networks.
The aim of the European number for missing children in Serbia is that, after being notified of the disappearance, ensure an immediate action aimed at the successful trace of the child, including assistance to the police in carrying out the search, as well as the support for families whose child is missing.
In case that the child was found exploited, ASTRA can receive a comprehensive support in the recovery process and (re) integration. Depending on the child’s needs, psychological, legal, medical assistance, counseling, alternative housing, support in continuing their education are available as well as the other forms of necessary assistance.
ASTRA SOS European phone for missing children is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls by citizens operating from fixed phones or via the mobile network are free. Through this group, all citizens of Serbia can contribute to efficient search of missing children by following photos and news about the missing children, and to report if they have information that can help a child to be found and safely returned to the family.