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Kids. Bosnia Herzegovina. Wikimedia Commons

What a new soup kitchen for children says about social policy in Bosnia

Lidija Pisker recommended by Lidija Pisker NewsMavens, Southern Europe

The alarming percentage of children who live in poverty does not inspire Bosnian governmental officials to act. Instead, they gladly hand over their responsibilities to the civil society.

Southern Europe Smoke signals

Why this story matters:

politics, health

Last month, a local NGO opened a soup kitchen for children from underprivileged families in Lukavac, a small town in Tuzla Canton, in northeastern Bosnia. Media reported that this is the “country’s first soup kitchen for children.”

Calling it "the first one” implies that there will be more meal centers to come, in other parts of the country. 

The Minister of Labor, Social Welfare and Return of Tuzla Canton, Zoran Jovanović, attended the opening ceremony. As part of the protocol, it was he who handed out the first meals prepared by the soup kitchen. 

The already grave occasion thus became grotesque not only because the facility was decorated with colorful balloons, but because  minister Jovanović -- officially responsible for helping malnourished children -- essentially congratulated civil society for doing his job.

“Civil society organizations are far more active than governments,” Jovanović told media.

He elaborated that governmental institutions are slow to react due to bureaucratic procedures they need to follow. Neither Jovanović, nor other ministers, feel embarrassed by this fact. 

“I am particularly pleased that the first soup kitchen for children started operating in Lukavac, in Tuzla Canton,” Jovanović claimed. “I am glad that these people have the desire and the will to help children in such a difficult situation.”

Almost a third (30.6%) of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina aged 5-15 live in poverty, according to UNICEF. The 2015 study, which set the absolute monthly poverty line at 238 Bosnian marks (around 120 euros) per capita, found that women and children are the most vulnerable group in this regard.

The World Bank estimated that 27% of Bosnian population is at risk of poverty.

Representatives of a local NGO, which set up the Lukavac soup kitchen, told media that the project was financed by non-governmental donors and private persons, because many parents in their community cannot afford to feed their children.

They also claimed that children are ashamed to visit the soup kitchen and so -- their family members or neighbors collect food for them. That, however, did not prevent TV stations from broadcasting footage showing the children's faces in their prime time. At the same time, only a few of them asked minister Jovanović to comment. 

The question I am left with is -- why do we make news out of children ashamed of their poverty and not of shameless politicians?

Details from the story:

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina was classified as a middle-income country before the war. The conflict has damaged the economy, downgrading it to a lower middle-income country. 
  • In 2016, the country had one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe (28%), according to the CIA’s World Fact Book.
  • Some estimates show that 5 out of 100 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina can’t afford basic expenses, such as fuel for heating and cooking, healthcare and transportation. 
  • A 2015 UNICEF study demonstrated that children in rural areas are more likely to be deprived of their rights to nutrition, health, education, etc.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina has the lowest rates of preschool education enrollment in the region, especially in rural areas, which reduces children’s chances of escaping poverty. 

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