SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A Bosnian lawmaker on Wednesday publicly shared shocking photos of children tied to beds and radiators in a public care home outside Sarajevo, triggering popular outrage and calls for mass protests against a perceived corrupt and inefficient government structure.
Disturbing photos showed a child tied to a radiator, another in a straitjacket and crying on a bed, as well as other children and youths restrained in similar fashion in various positions.
Sabina Cudic of the opposition Nasa Stranka party presented the photos ahead of a session of the parliament of one of the country’s two semi-autonomous parts, the Bosniak-Croat Federation.
Cudic said the photos were taken over the past year in the Pazaric care home for special needs children and urged the parliament to discuss the issue.
Her initiative was rejected by a majority of lawmakers, but parliament tasked one of its working groups to investigate the allegations and submit a report within a week.
“This can be described as a case of modern-day slavery,” Cudic said, adding that 27 of Pazaric’s 149 employees were economists, while the home’s night shift was covered only by one, frequently untrained person.
A top European rights watchdog described the revelations as “profoundly shocking” and said the country should ensure that all children with disabilities live in a family setting.
Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, also called on authorities to launch an “effective investigation into the cases of abuse” at Pazaric, which already facing scrutiny because of suspected financial misconduct by the government-appointed management.
“Authorities should urgently make progress toward the closure of all such institutions and reform of the child care system in line with human rights standards,” Mijatovic said in a statement. “People segregated in institutions regularly suffer from abandonment and neglect.”
Some lawmakers accused Cudic of “populism” because of her decision to share the photos she obtained. They also slammed her for not revealing the source or date of the photos.
Redzep Salic, the current manager of the Pazaric care home, who had warned the authorities last year of alleged corruption by his predecessor, told reporters that the photos could not have been taken after he took over last spring.
Frustrations with the increasingly strained social protection network and perceived lack of opportunities have been brewing in Bosnia for a long time.
Several dozen protesters gathered outside Parliament after Cudic’s revelations, greeting lawmakers who voted against debating Cudic’s claims with boos and banners reading “All our children are Pazaric children.”
In attempts to shame them, thousands also shared the names of those members of parliament on social networks. A mass protest on is planned Thursday at noon.