Children ‘Invisible’ in Serbia’s Response to Domestic Abuse

"Children are not sufficiently recognised as victims in the context of gender-based violence because it is not sufficiently recognised how violence affects children's emotional, physical, psychological development, their behaviour and the process of socialisation," Padejski Sekerovic told BIRN.

"It is important to educate experts in the system who deal with gender-based violence in order for them to understand every aspect of it."

Serbia ratified the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty on preventing and combatting gender-based violence and domestic violence, in November 2013.

But almost a decade on, experts say the country is failing when it comes to the protections the Convention sets out for children from abusive homes.

The consequences can be traumatic and long-term, with children in Serbia often exposed to continued abuse due to the failure of authorities to properly address questions of custody and visitation. And such children are at a higher risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of such abuse in adulthood, research shows.

"Adequate support for child witnesses is a form of prevention," said Tanja Ignjatovic, a psychologist at the Belgrade-based Autonomous Women's Centre. "Protecting today's children is part of protecting the next generations from violence."

Protected on paper only

Illustration: BIRN

Serbia has a clear legal framework for protecting children who witness domestic violence or abuse.

Article 6 of Serbia's 2011 General Protocol for Action and Cooperation of Institutions, Bodies and Organisations in Situations of Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence against Women states: "children are considered victims of domestic violence not only when they...

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