“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

The case of Valjbona and her children - lack of birth registration leaves many Roma children in a situation of undetermined nationality for an extended period of time

15 May 2014 | Ivanka Kostic, Executive Director, Praxis

“Once I acquire nationality, my children will finally be able to go to the doctor’s when necessary and I will not have to pay for medicines. Nearby our settlement, there is a doctor who examines my children without a health booklet, but without a health booklet I need to pay for medicines in a pharmacy. How can I pay for medicines, where to find money for them? My husband collects paper and other material from waste containers and sells them, but it’s not even enough for food. Once they almost wouldn’t take me in the hospital with my one-year old child because I didn’t have an ID card and a health booklet. My child kept vomiting and finally fainted. They gave him infusion and told us to leave the hospital. We spent only 24 hours there. Before I left they told me that I could bring my child again only when I obtained a health booklet. When you have no money and no documents, you have nothing in life”.

Valjbona is a 24-year-old Roma. She was born in Kosovo, outside of a health facility, in her grandmother’s house where she lived with her whole family. Her parents did not report the fact of her birth to the registry office. Valjbona never went to school.

In 1999, Valjbona’s family moved to Belgrade and settled in an informal Roma settlement where they lived without basic living conditions. Valjbona was only nine then.

When Valjbona was fifteen her parents moved to Montenegro together with her sister and three brothers. Though minor, Valjbona remained living in Belgrade without a legal guardian. Soon after, she established a common-law marriage. Today, Valjbona has three children, aged five, three and two. She could not register the birth of her children for the lack of her personal documents. Without a birth certificate and a valid ID card, one cannot register a child’s birth.

Valjbona was not in contact with her parents for years. Consequently, she could not register the fact of her birth as the subsequent birth registration procedure requires the presence of the mother.

Valjbona’s mother came to Belgrade in 2012 and only then was it possible for Valjbona to initiate an administrative procedure of subsequent birth registration. However, prior to that, Valjbona’s mother needed to initiate the procedure of re-registration of the fact of her birth and nationality because the registries of birth and nationality of Valjbona’s mother had been destroyed in the 1999 Kosovo conflict. Only after the completion of the re-registration procedure, was Valjbona’s mother able to obtain an ID card and take part in the procedure of subsequent birth registration of her daughter.

In 2013, Valjbona’s subsequent birth registration was finally approved, but with no data on her name and nationality. Valjbona was then 23 years old. In the subsequent birth registration procedure, the administrative body approved only the registration of Valjbona’s date and place of birth and personal data about her mother, including the fact that the mother possessed the Serbian nationality.

A few months afterwards, Valjbona’s personal name was determined by a social welfare centre. She then received her first birth certificate but with no data on her nationality even though she fulfilled all requirements for acquiring the nationality ex lege as she was born in Serbia and her mother was a Serbian citizen at the moment of her birth.

Therefore, Valjbona addressed the administrative body with a request to record the fact of her Serbian nationality into the birth registry. However, the request was rejected with an absurd explanation that “the mother’s nationality was registered in 2012, that is after the child’s birth” neglecting the fact that it was clearly a re-registration procedure of the fact of her nationality (actually, the reconstruction of the destroyed registry).

Consequently, Valjbona was forced to initiate an additional procedure before the Ministry of Interior, precisely the procedure for the determination of nationality, which may last from several months to one year. Only when Valjbona finally regulates her nationality status and registers her permanent residence, will she be able to obtain an ID card and register the birth of her children. Afterwards, her children will be able to have their personal names determined, as well as their birth certificates and health booklets obtained.

The case of Valjbona and her children is just one of many examples which illustrate the shortcomings of the birth registration system in Serbia. The missing birth registration and the lack of personal documents of parents have been the greatest problem in the registration of newly born children belonging to the Roma community. The guaranteed rights of the child to be registered in the birth registry book immediately after birth, to have the right from birth to a name and the right to acquire a nationality should be secured through an effective system of birth registration, regardless of whether the child was born in a health facility or at home or whether the parents possess personal documents or not. It is necessary that Serbia takes urgent measures to amend the existing regulations in order to allow birth registration accessible for all children.

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