November 22, 2019 / 2:25 PM / 15 days ago

Bosnia sacks children's home managers after protests over abuse

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnian officials bowed to pressure from protesters on Friday and dismissed the management of a residential home after an opposition lawmaker publicized photos showing children with special needs tied to beds and radiators.

FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold placards saying "What if it was about your children?", "Is it the 12th or 21st century?", "We will not surrender our children" and "Children have rights too" during a protest against abuse in an institution for children with special needs after photographs emerged of children tied to beds and radiators in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/

Hundreds of protests gathered in the capital Sarajevo on Thursday and Friday after Sabina Cudic showed one of Bosnia’s two parliaments images of what she said were children in the Pazaric institution near the city, some in straitjackets. [L8N2813DH]

The protesters say the situation in the home results from years of corruption and nepotism that have plagued Bosnia since a 1992-5 war left the former Yugoslav republic split into two autonomous parts with layers of ethnically-based government.

Police on Friday raided the home, which had been under scrutiny for months over suspected historic financial misconduct, a day after the Sarajevo cantonal prosecutor’s office opened a case relating to the alleged abuses.

The government of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, which makes up Bosnia along with a Serb republic, said it had ordered the dismissal of the home’s general manager and managing and supervisory board and their replacement by professionals.

“As a minister, I am shocked by facts and allegations that have been presented, especially because they relate to the children with mental problems, a vulnerable category that must have special protection,” Federation Labour and Social Policy Minister Vesko Drljaca told a news conference.

The government also ordered health and labor ministries to tackle systemic flaws in the running of the region’s care homes.

Cudic, of the Nasa Stranka party, had told the Bosniak-Croat parliament 27 out of 149 employees at the home were economists rather than trained carers, and only one person covered night shifts, often without medical training.

She described conditions at the home as “modern-day slavery”, saying she had evidence some workers and patients were forced to work for the previous manager at his private home.

That manager has not commented publicly on the allegations. His successor denied any wrongdoing and the minister, Drljaca said: “All information needs to be thoroughly examined and measures taken to determine the real truth.”

The protesters vowed to continue their action next week to press for a better social care network with tighter supervision.

“Professionals rather than party affiliates should deal with our children,” said Edo Celebic from an association of parents of children with special needs.

Bosnia’s ombudsmen said the sector badly needed attention.

“It is super-urgent to address the problems of inadequate staffing and accommodation, of supervision of employees and insufficient financial means,” lead ombudsman Nives Jukic told a news conference in the town of Banja Luka on Friday.

Additional reporting and writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Philippa Fletcher

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