Belgrade, 6 October 2008 – Some 155,000 children in Serbia live in dire poverty, while another 100,000 are on the verge of poverty, Rasim Ljajić says.

“According to the Social Services Center records, around 161,000 children are benefactors of various kinds of social welfare,” the labor minister told a news conference in Belgrade on Monday, called to mark the Children’s Week, that lasts Oct. 6-12. According to Ljajić, children from the refugee population and Roma families live under the harshest circumstances.

“As much as 60 percent of Roma children live in unsanitary settlements, 20 percent encounter development problems, while 46 percent don’t have regular daily meals,” he explained.

The minister added that was violence directed at children was another major issue, and pointed out that in 2007, 1,640 cases were reported – including emotional and physical violence, and neglect.

Ljajić said that Serbia needs to harmonize the legal regulations with international standards and announced that three new draft laws were in the parliamentary procedure. This legislation, according to him, should improve the position of children.

The minister added that a law regulating the work of the social services would be adopted during 2009.

UNICEF Area Representative Judita Reichenberg, who also spoke at the news conference, pointed out that Serbia needs to accelerate reforms that would improve the child rights and to adopt an adequate budget for that purpose.

“Discrimination must become unacceptable. There are no excuses for a child to be exposed to discrimination, whether it has to do with ethnic minority, children with special needs, or children from poor, remote areas,” she said.

President of Serbia’s Friends of Children organization Ljubivoje Ršumović said that children are of “strategic importance” for every state and that therefore they deserve special care and attention.

“Children live in completely chaotic conditions. Problems with schoolbooks, with school violence, these are the issues that should concern us,” Ršumović said.

Source: Beta/B92