Demonstrations took place in Sarajevo on Thursday after a Bosnian legislator publicly shared shocking photos of children tied to beds and radiators in a public care home outside the city.
Sabina Cudic of the opposition Our Party presented the photos on Wednesday ahead of a session of parliament in one of the country’s two semi-autonomous areas, the Bosniak-Croat Federation.
Cudic said the photographs were taken over the past year in the Pazaric Institute care home for special-needs children, and urged parliament to discuss the issue.
“This situation can be seen as modern slavery,” Cudic said at a news conference in Sarajevo after presenting the images to legislators.
She said she decided to inform the public after the government refused to remove members of the Management and Supervisory Boards, which she considers responsible for the situation at the institute.
The House of Representatives declined by a majority to discuss the situation at the Pazaric Institute in Tuesday’s session, but it has given a seven-day deadline to investigate the case.
Meanwhile, the Sarajevo Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office opened its own investigation.
A top European rights watchdog described the images as “profoundly shocking” and said the country should ensure all children with disabilities live in a family setting.
Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, called on authorities to launch an “effective investigation into the cases of abuse” at Pazaric, which is already facing scrutiny because of suspected financial misconduct by the government-appointed management team.
“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,” she added.
Frustrations with the increasingly strained social protection network and perceived lack of opportunities have been brewing in Bosnia for a long time.
“What happened in Pazaric is not an individual incident. It is a result of a continuously poor political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina that has only surfaced now,” psychologist Ibrahim Prohic told Al Jazeera, expressing fears that there are other similar cases in different institutions in Bosnia that have not yet been discovered.
“The institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina have not taken any steps in addressing this when concerns were raised regarding this institute several months back,” he said.
According to Prohic, such cases can be seen as a failure of political parties in Bosnia.
Bosnian society was facing these problems as a result of the government’s decision to place “immoral and incompetent people in the leading positions of the country’s public institutions”, he added.
Several dozen protesters gathered outside parliament after Cudic’s revelations, greeting legislators who voted against debating Cudic’s claims with boos and banners reading: “All our children are Pazaric children.”