The Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, the Centre for the Protection of Infants, Children and Youth and UNICEF, with the financial support of the European Union, launched a new innovative service of the National Children’s Line (NADEL) that enables easy reporting of violence and counselling through chat bot and Viber bot applications.
“Children are always a vulnerable group and in circumstances such as the current one with COVID, they become even more exposed to potential violence. This is why we work with a number of partners within authorities, international organisations and civil society, to prevent this and protect children as much as possible. Through this project this support is designed as a response in four areas – health, education, early childhood development and child protection. In this specific case, our goal was to use available modern technology, which often provides easier access to help while protecting privacy of children,” said Leonetta Pajer from the EU Delegation to Serbia.
Supporting NADEL and the improvement of its services is important in the context of the implementation of the recently adopted Strategy for the Prevention and Protection of Children from Violence for the period 2020-2023, as well as to strengthen the entire system of prevention and response to violence against children in Serbia. The Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs Prof. Dr Darija Kisic Tepavcevic said that the Government of the Republic of Serbia has a zero-tolerance approach to violence.
“Supporting the physical and mental health of our children is our priority. The launch of this service will be an additional resource in preventing of all forms of violence, especially violence against children and youth,” said Kisić Tepavčević.
Kisic Tepavcevic stated that the new service will make it easier to recognise any form of violence and to react in a timely manner, since young people feel most at ease using this type of communication tools. Prof. Dr Kisic Tepavcevic added that the goal is to provide maximum freedom and support to all children and youth to report any form of abuse and violence and for children to know that they are not alone and to have someone they can turn to for help.
The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of children, as well as their development. Due to increased stress, there has been an increase in domestic violence as well as reduced access to child protection services. Counselling via chatbots and Viber has been established to enable the reporting of violence, as well as counselling work that ensures privacy, given that telephone conversations are impossible in some situations.
“We’ve seen that the pandemic has worsened pre-existing mental health conditions and increased stress levels due to isolation, fear, panic, and a lack of understanding of what is happening. And this has an impact on violence levels. Addressing violence against children is one of UNICEF’s priorities. The Government of Serbia has shown a clear commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to violence. It is crucial to maintain momentum around this agenda! I look forward to working together to stop the violence against every child in Serbia,” said Deyana Kostadinova, UNICEF Representative in Serbia.
The introduction of new innovative services was made possible by UNICEF thanks to the financial support of the European Union, through the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).
NADEL is an integral part of the Centre for the Protection of Infants, Children and Youth and consists of a network of experienced counsellors specialised in work and conversation with children. Since its establishment, NADEL counsellors have received more than a million telephone calls from children from all over Serbia and provided more than 50,000 counselling sessions.
“The National Children’s SOS Line started operating in 2005 at the Centre for the Protection of Infants, Children and Youth and is one of the proven services for the prevention and reporting of violence, but also supporting children and youth on many issues important to them. Children must have a confidential, anonymous, free and accessible channel for reporting violence or suspected violence. Following their needs, with the tremendous support and active participation of UNICEF and the line Ministry, we embarked on a serious job of creating a secure interactive platform that can be accessed anonymously and online consultation with specially trained professionals who are equipped to provide CHAT counselling,” said Zoran Milacic, Director of the Centre for the Protection of Infants, Children and Youth.