14 Aug 12

No fit state

Eldin Hadzovic

To make passers-by part with their small change, the street children of Sarajevo will wash cars, perform songs and dances, or simply beg for alms.

The urchins seem at first glance like orphans, but the reality – 17 years after Bosnia’s wars – is less straightforward.

Many have been separated from their families as a result of poverty, discrimination and displacement – factors whose link to the conflict may only be tangential.

Arijana Aganovic works for the Sarajevo Open Centre, an NGO that operates a day-care centre for street children, providing them with shelter, food and basic education.

She says more than 400 children, mostly aged between five and 15, use the centre’s facilities every day. The youngest ones are dropped off by their parents.

Some estimates suggest between two and four thousand children live in state institutions and so-called orphanages or “homes” in Bosnia. But precise figures for the number of children who lack parental care are not available because Bosnia has not held a national census since the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991.

Kanita Kulic, a colleague of Arijana’s, complained that the state had failed to provide adequate financial, legal and logistical support for vulnerable children. She also criticised the police for trying to penalise the parents of street children by issuing fines that they were in no position to pay.

While NGOs such as the Sarajevo Open Centre carry out vital humanitarian work, they cannot offer a long-term, systematic solution for Bosnia’s orphans and abandoned children.

Only the state can do that. But as I’ve been discovering during my research, one should not ask too much of the state.

Talk about it!

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