SARAJEVO -- About 1,000 protesters blocked a major street in front of the government headquarters in Sarajevo on November 21 to demand a criminal investigation into allegations of child abuse at a care facility for special needs children in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The protest was staged a day after a Bosnian lawmaker shared shocking photos that purportedly show children at the facility tied to beds and radiators.
Sabina Cudic, a member of the opposition Nasa Stranka party, said on November 20 that the photos were taken during the past year at the Pazaric Institute for the Mental Care of Disabled Children outside of Sarajevo.
Cudic also told the parliament of the Bosniak-Croat federation that sick children were being treated like prisoners at the facility, and that some young children were being treated with drugs that are illegal for their age.
She said she released the photos as a "shock" tactic because the government has ignored her repeated calls to address the problem, which she blamed on corruption in government employment and the mismanagement of public funds.
"We want a criminal investigation to be launched, indictments" because no method of child care in Bosnia-Herzegovina allows for children to be tied up, one mother of a child at the Pazaric Institute told RFE/RL during the November 21 protest in Sarajevo.
"These are six-year-old children," she said, asking to remain anonymous in order to protect the identity of her child. "They are proteges. They are not prisoners."
"It starts with a lawsuit, an investigation," the mother told RFE/RL. "We want to know who did this to us -- who did this to the children."
The authenticity of the published photos has not been officially confirmed, and a majority of lawmakers rejected Cudic's call to publicly discuss the issue in parliament on November 20.
But the Bosniak-Croat entity's parliament did task one of its working groups to investigate the allegations and submit a report by December 4.
Pazaric's government-appointed management is already facing an investigation into allegations of financial misconduct.
The facility serves as a care home for 342 special needs patients -- including children as young as three and disabled adults up to the age of 25.
The facility's director, Redzep Salic, told journalists on November 20 that he would not allow the children at the public home to be used for "political purposes."
But Save The Children, an international nongovernmental organization, said in a statement that it was "horrified and shocked by the allegations of abuse of children and young people with developmental disabilities residing at the Pazaric Institute.
Save The Children called on authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina to rectify conditions at the facility as soon as possible and for the public home's managers to be held accountable.
"This treatment of children at the Pazaric Institute constitutes the most serious violation of a number of children's rights guaranteed by the Convention On The Rights Of The Child and the Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities," the group said.