U.S.: Serbian couple fights to get children back

BELGRADE -- After the American Child Protection Agency took away their children, Vuk and Verica Nastić will appear in court and try to get their children back.

Vuk Nastić with the children (Blic, file)
Vuk Nastić with the children (Blic, file)

They will request that they be tried in Serbia.

In June the Agency took eight-year old son Damjan and daughter Nastasija from their parents because of alleged sexual abuse.

Psychologists claim that the case amounts to "cultural misunderstandings". Photographs of the couple's naked children taking a bath in a bathtub were found in their father's computer when he took it to a repair shop, and the shop owner notified police.

The agony of the Nastić family has been going on for six months. Currently, Verica can see her kids once a week for an hour, while the father is not even allowed that.

"It’s so hard for us! I can’t explain how we feel. But the kids should be the most important. They are destroying the kids! They ruined my kids! When I see my children, they‘re no longer mine," says Verica Nastić, the mother of Damjan and Nastasija.

The criminal procedure against Vuk Nastić is underway, and last week the Agency accused him and Verica of negligence and sexual abuse. That was when new evidence was presented.

Vuk Nastić said that the evidence in this was was that his son was "upstairs in the hallway playing and he says something in English to the camera and he plays naked and that lasts for about 5 to 10 seconds and that’s it. And you could hear my voice from the ground floor saying to my wife: Verica, pass me this, or something like that. So the kids were upstairs alone, and we were downstairs and that lasted for ten seconds, no evidence what so ever. Yet they used it to break us and the kids."

The Nastićs are receiving assistance from a team of Serbian psychologists. Zoran Milivojević, Žarko Korać and Žarko Trebješanin have sent a letter to the California court explaining the cultural differences between Serbia and America. Trebješanin says that the case is a "tragic misunderstanding."

"What I think is important, regarding the interest of the children, is that the children wish to return to their parents. They do not perceive or think that someone maltreated and harassed them in any way, and that must be taken into consideration," believes psychologist Žarko Trebješanin.

The Nastić family claims that the children are under constant pressure and that their statements are being manipulated.

"They (U.S. authorities) don’t adhere to any laws at all. It's unbelievable. And they do everything for the sake of the kids, but they are ruining them. When I see them I feel as if I’m about to die, and can’t say anything to them, because everything I say is used against us and they can ban me from seeing my kids," says the mother.

"They have been instructing my daughter all the time, as she was under pressure to return to her mother, because she said: 'Hey dad, Damjan wanted to say that you took those pictures so we could come back and live with mommy'. That means that they planted those ideas in their heads. That's why my little girl said that I touched her, but they didn’t clarify in what context and whether I bathed her or not, and that’s why they raised charges," said Vuk Nastić.

Trebješanin says that the problem is cultural, and that the Americans should take that into consideration, because their citizens experience the same situation when they are arrested in Arab countries for not wearing a veil over the face, or for bathing in a swim suit.

"In our culture children are perceived as completely asexual and it isn’t unusual that they take baths with their parents. It is nothing unusual that they are photographed and I believe that everyone has in their family album their own naked photo (as a child), or their child’s. It does not produce any erotic feeling, they are just perceived as little kids. I believe that the Americans must understand those differences. As a nation, we touch, hug and kiss more than some other northern nations," says Trebješanin.

Trebješanin says that the only advice he can give to people traveling abroad is to carefully study the laws and customs of the host country so that these problems would not occur.