Social & Economic rights

Friday, 23 October 2020

A whole year without fundamental rights

The case of one-year-old Jovana

Although ratified international conventions, the Constitution and the Family Law prescribe that every child must be registered immediately after birth, this is still not the right that every child in Serbia is able to exercise. Children who are not registered in birth registry book are left without the right to health care, while their parents are not able to apply for parental or child allowance. To the greatest extent, this problem affects the Roma community in Serbia, a marginalized part of the population who often live in extreme poverty. At the same time, the subsequent birth registration through administrative and court proceedings is, in most cases, a rather difficult and lengthy process. However, even when proceedings are initiated, it happens that the state authorities refuse to fulfil their legal obligation. This is exactly the case with Jovana, a child who has been waiting to access basic rights for a year now.

Jovana was born in October 2019 in a hospital in Belgrade. A year later, Jovana is still not registered in the birth registry. Due to that, she does not have possess a health card, while various forms of financial support, which are intended for families with children, are not available to her family. 

Jovana's parents could not register her birth because her mother does not possess any personal documents. The reason for this problem lies in the bylaws that regulate the procedure of birth registration. According to these bylaws, parents need to provide their ID cards and birth certificate in order to register their child. In case the mother does not have these documents, the child cannot be registered immediately after birth, but it is instead necessary to conduct additional procedures, which delays the registration of the child for at least a few months. 

Still, in some cases, even initiating these procedures does not guarantee that the child will be registered. In February 2020, the procedure for determining Jovana's personal name was initiated before the Social Welfare Centre in Belgrade. This procedure should be carried out in cases when a child’s personal name is not determined within 30 days of birth,  which also happened to Jovana because her mother did not have an ID card. Since the right to a personal name is a right which is guaranteed to every child without exception, the Social Welfare Centre should bring a decision in this case determining child’s personal name, regardless of whether the parents possess personal documents or not. Also, a few years ago, the competent ministry issued an instruction for social welfare centres, in which it is stated that children whose mothers do not possess documents must have their personal name determined and which regulates what actions should be taken in such cases.

Unfortunately, in Jovana's case, even that was not enough: the employee of the Centre for Social Welfare, before which the procedure was initiated, told Jovana's mother that the procedure would be continued and completed only after she had obtained her own ID card. In addition, the registrar who was familiar with this case, told the parents that regardless of the outcome of the procedure before the Social Welfare Centre, the registration of the child would not be conducted until the mother had received her personal documents. In other words, the registrar said that, despite her duty to carry out the final decision of the Social Welfare Centre, she would refuse to enter Jovana’s name in the birth registry if the mother did not obtain an ID card.

However, it remains uncertain when Jovana's mother will manage to obtain an ID card. Her birth was never registered and she has never had any personal documents either. She was born in 1998 in Priština. Since her parents did not have personal documents at the time, they did not register her birth. Soon after she was born, Kosovo conflict started, and the family moved to Germany. Jovana's mother lived in this country until 2018, when she was returned to Serbia through the readmission procedure. Currently, the procedure for determination of date and place of her birth is conducted before a court in Belgrade. Following potential successful completion of the procedure, her birth and citizenship should be registered in the birth registry. Then, she would have to register her residence, after which she will finally be able to get an ID card. Only then can it be expected that the birth registration procedure for Jovana will be completed, unless the Social Welfare Centre and the Registry Office change their position and, instead, proceed in accordance with the law.  

The case of Jovana's family is an insightful example of how important it is for every child to be registered immediately after birth. This problem is passed from generation to generation and if not solved in time, it may lead to an increasing number of people who are not registered in the birth registry and who are at risk of statelessness. 

Nevertheless, this problem can be easily solved. It is enough to amend the bylaws that require the parents to possess personal documents in order to register their child’s birth. Also, it is imperative that the competent authorities in charge of these procedures consistently apply the regulations, all in the best interest of the child. According to the Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Serbia, "a child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name". Unfortunately, Jovana has not been granted this right even a year after her birth.


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