By Maja Zuvela
SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Sarajevo’s prosecutor has launched an investigation into the alleged abuse of children with special needs at a state-run care home in Bosnia, after a lawmaker made public photographs and a video showing children tied to beds and radiators.
A protest in the Bosnian capital demanding the regional government take action drew several hundred people on Thursday. Nearly 2,000 people have meanwhile signed a complaint to the Sarajevo prosecutor about alleged abuse and neglect at the Pazaric care home, near the city.
Protesters in front of government buildings carried placards reading “Tie me if you dare” and “Children to schools, not chains”.
The prosecutor’s office said it has opened a case relating to the alleged abuses at the request of Federation Prime Minister Fadil Novalic.
Sabina Cudic, of the Nasa Stranka opposition party, shared the photographs and video in the parliament of the autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation on Wednesday, describing conditions for the children at the home as “modern-day slavery”.
The home’s manager, who took over early this year, told a news conference on Wednesday that the photographs of the children had not been taken during his tenure and that care standards have improved, with a ban on “fixing” restraint.
Cudic told parliament that 27 out of 149 employees at the home were trained economists rather than qualified carers, and that night shifts were covered by only one person, often not medically trained.
An ombudsman, Jasminka Dzumhur, said her office had repeatedly warned about poor conditions in Bosnian care homes.
“We demand that professionals deal with our children — this is only the beginning of our fight,” said Edo Celebic, representing parents of children with special needs at Thursday’s protest.
Lawmakers agreed after Cudic’s evidence to form a working group to collect evidence and to discuss its report next week.
The Pazaric home care has been under scrutiny for months over suspected historic financial misconduct. Some staff have been replaced but protesters said the government-appointed managing and supervisory board should also go.
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said the abuse allegations were “profoundly shocking” and urged the authorities to bring those responsible to justice. The European Union’s delegation in Bosnia said it was appalled.
The scandal adds to acute public dissatisfaction with Bosnia’s health and care network and its inefficient multi-layered government system.
“The system does not support us, they give nothing to our children,” said Mirsada Begovic, a mother of a disabled child who was among protesters on Thursday.
(Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Catherine Evans)