According to UNICEF, around 70% of children in Serbia suffer from physical or psychological violence at home, with the most endangered category being children from poor Roma families.
By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 26/12/08
Serbian authorities say they are planning steps to promote better parenting strategies. [Nikola Barbutov]
After a warning from Serbian social workers about growing violence against children in the family, state officials and NGOs have launched a debate on introducing penalties for parents who spank their children.
Corporal punishment in Serbia is illegal in schools but not in homes.
Social workers, whose job is to react to every reported act of violence against children, point out that the problem has grown over the past few years. The most frequent form of abuse is neglect of the child's basic needs, followed by verbal threats and the most severe physical abuse.
Roma families have a high incidence of corporal punishment and a higher risk of abuse. UNICEF reports that 80% of Roma parents punish their children for infractions either physically or psychologically, exceeding the 70% figure for Serbian children in general. More than a third -- 35% -- of Roma mothers spank their children.
Spanking children is banned by law in 16 European countries, Canada and New Zealand. When it comes to the former Yugoslav republics, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia have added this element to family law.
A group of children first handed a copy of the no-spanking initiative to Serbia's ombudsman about a month ago, which started a broad public debate on the matter.
Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic says the introduction of legal sanctions for parents who physically punish their children is a very delicate topic, since sceptics could interpret such penalties as "interfering with family relations".
"Child abuse should be fought not only with laws and regulations, but the awareness of the parents themselves should also be changed," Jankovic said.
Social Policy Ministry senior official Ljiljana Lucic has announced the ministry will propose amendments to the family law, so as to ban corporal punishment as a measure in raising a child.
"Positive parenting measures should be promoted, and spanking as a form of discipline should be rooted out," Lucic said.
According to her, the government will soon adopt a national strategy, aimed primarily at keeping better track of violence against children, in order to precisely determine the scope of the problem. The state also plans to promote positive measures of discipline instead of corporal punishment through educational campaigns at the local level.
Psychologist Zarko Trebjesanin stresses that corporal punishment, as a way of disciplining a child, is deeply rooted in Serbian tradition.
He adds that using spanking to discipline children can yield much more negative than positive effects, since children can adopt aggression as a behavioural model.