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    A year without basic rights

    Praxis presented the case of one-year-old Jovana

    The text of Praxis is transmitted in its entirety.

    Although ratified international conventions, the Constitution and the Family Law stipulate that every child must be registered in the birth register immediately after birth, this is still not a right that every child will be able to realize in Serbia. Children who are not registered in the registry remain without the right to health care, while parents are unable to apply for parental or child allowance. To the greatest extent, this problem affects the Roma in Serbia, a marginalized population category that often lives in extreme poverty. Moreover, the subsequent realization of the right to be entered in the birth register through administrative and judicial procedures is, in most cases, a difficult and lengthy process. However, even when proceedings are initiated, it happens that state authorities refuse to fulfill their legal obligations. This is exactly the case with Jovan, a child who has been waiting for his basic rights for a year.

    Jovana was born in October 2019 in a maternity hospital in Belgrade. A year after her birth, Jovana is still not registered in the birth register. Because of this, she doesn’t even have a health card, and various forms of material support intended for families with children are not available to her family.

    Jovan’s parents could not register her in the birth register because her mother does not have personal documents. The reason for this problem lies in the by-laws that regulate the birth registration procedure and registration in the birth register. These by-laws require the parents to have an identity card and a birth certificate for the registration of newborn children. In cases where the mother does not have these documents, the child cannot be registered in the register immediately after birth, but special procedures must be followed, which delays the registration of the child for at least several months.

    However, in some cases, even the initiation of these procedures does not guarantee that the child will be registered in the registers. In February 2020, the process of determining a personal name was initiated for Jovana before the center for social work in Belgrade. This procedure must be carried out in cases where the child has not been assigned a personal name within 30 days after birth, which happened to Jovana because her mother did not have an identity card. Since the right to a personal name is a right that is guaranteed to every child without exception, the center for social work in this procedure would have to issue a decision determining the child’s name, regardless of whether the parents have personal documents or not. Also, a few years ago, the competent ministry issued an instruction to the centers for social work emphasizing that even children whose mothers do not have documents must be given a name and which regulates how to act in such situations.

    Unfortunately, in Jovana’s case, even that was not enough: the employee of the center for social work, before whom the proceedings were initiated, told Jovana’s mother that the proceedings would continue and end only when she obtained an identity card. In addition, the official of the registry office, who was familiar with this case, indicated in the conversation with the parents that regardless of the outcome of the proceedings before the center for social work, the registration of the child in the birth registry will not be possible until the mother receives her documents. In other words, the official of the registry office said that despite her duty to implement the final decision of the center for social work, she will refuse to enter Jovana’s name in the birth registry if the mother does not have an identity card.

    However, the question is when Jovana’s mother will be able to get an identity card. She was not registered in the registry either and never had any personal documents. She was born in 1998 in Pristina. Since her parents did not have personal documents then, they did not register her in the registers. War conflicts soon broke out in Kosovo, and the family moved to Germany. Jovan’s mother lived in this country until 2018, when she was returned to Serbia in the readmission process. Currently, the court in Belgrade is conducting a procedure to determine the time and place of her birth, after the possible successful completion of which, the facts of her birth and citizenship should be entered in the registers. Then she has to go through the process of registering her residence, after which she will finally be able to get her identity card. Only then, it can be expected that the registration procedure for Jovana will be completed, unless the center for social work and the registry office change their position and still act in a legal way.

    The example of Jovana’s family best shows how important it is for each child to be registered in the register immediately after birth. This problem is passed on from generation to generation and if it is not solved in time, it leads to the appearance of an increasing number of people who are not registered in the registers and who are at risk of statelessness.

    However, this problem can be easily solved. It is enough to amend the by-laws that make the registration of newborn children conditional on the possession of the parents’ documents. It is also necessary that the competent authorities that implement these procedures consistently apply the regulations, and all in the best interest of the child. According to Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Serbia, “a child is registered immediately after birth and has the right to a name from birth.” Unfortunately, Jovana was not granted this right even a year after her birth.

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