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Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Serbia Continues to Ignore the Recommendations of International Bodies and Undertaken Obligations

In 2021, children who could not be registered in birth registry books immediately after birth continued to be born in Serbia. This situation is a consequence of the fact that Serbia has not yet fulfilled its obligations and has not changed the bylaws that prevent immediate registration of children whose mothers are undocumented. Instead, it is necessary to conduct special, often very long and complicated procedures for these children, which can delay their registration into birth registry books for months or even years. Meanwhile, children are left without a birth certificate, thus being prevented or significantly hindered from accessing most of rights. This problem almost exclusively affects the Roma population, which is already one of the most vulnerable and discriminated against groups.

Although ratified international conventions, the Constitution and the Law on Family provide that every child must be registered in birth registry books immediately after birth, the bylaws governing the notification of birth and registration in birth registry books deny this right to children whose mothers do not have personal documents. Numerous international bodies have been for years pointing out to Serbia that it is necessary to change such a situation. This year, the UN Human Rights Committee has pointed out that Serbia did not fulfil its previously issued recommendation about the necessity to facilitate and allow registration in birth registry books of children whose parents do not have personal documents; the European Commission has stressed that all children must be registered at birth, regardless of the status of their parents; while the European Parliament has called on Serbia to solve the problem of structural discrimination faced by Roma regarding citizenship (without a birth certificate, it is not possible to exercise the right to citizenship). Similar recommendations were previously issued to Serbia by the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination. Serbia has also committed to fulfilling the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, including the goal of ensuring that everyone can be registered in birth registry books. Above all, in the Revised Action Plan for Chapter 23, the Government of the Republic of Serbia has determined that the bylaws regulating registration in birth registry books must be amended by the second quarter of 2021, so that children of undocumented parents can be registered in birth registry books immediately after birth.

However, the obligations have not been fulfilled and the recommendations have not been complied with. Instead of amending the disputed bylaw provisions, towards the end of the last year the competent ministries issued an instruction on the actions of authorities in cases of children whose parents do not have personal documents. However, this act is not only not legally binding, but it does not in any way try to solve the problem of timely registration of children in birth registry books. The instruction contains only guidelines on what the relevant authorities should do to initiate procedures for mothers to obtain documents, while children remain unregistered until mothers obtain their ID cards. The experiences of Praxis’ beneficiaries who gave birth in 2021 and did not have personal documents show that not even this instruction is applied in practice, that is, that mothers are not in any way facilitated to obtain their documents.

If the competent authorities continue to ignore this problem, Serbia will remain a country where the fundamental rights of the child are grossly violated and where children, because they could not be registered immediately after birth, remain at risk of being deprived of health care and social protection in the most vulnerable period of life, as well as other rights that cannot be exercised without registration in birth registry books.

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