“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to help protect children from statelessness in Serbia

23 February 2017 | Vuk Raicevic, Legal Analyst, Praxis
This stateless woman from the Roma community in Serbia was unable to register her  four children. She is now pregnant and it is unlikely she will be able to register her  newborn. As a result her children are legally invisible. © Greg Constantine

(A version of this article was first published in the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion’s the  World's Stateless 2017 report.)

Several categories of children are at risk of statelessness in the Republic of Serbia. These include children who have not been registered in birth registries, children of undetermined citizenship and those who were registered in registry books that were lost or remain unavailable to the authorities of Serbia. The great majority of these children belong to the Roma community, which lives in deep poverty and social exclusion, exposed to discriminatory treatment in almost every area of life. Statelessness and the risk of statelessness is an issue that the Republic of Serbia has made efforts to address.

Legislative changes and better practices have helped to both prevent new cases of statelessness and find solutions for persons who have been living without citizenship or proof of citizenship for many years. However, some gaps still remain, which must be addressed to fully resolve statelessness in Serbia. In particular, in order to prevent childhood statelessness and to fulfil obligations stemming from Serbia’s international obligations and its constitution, it is still necessary to ensure that every child is registered at birth without discrimination and regardless of the status of his/her parents.

In 2016, Praxis, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) and the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) made a submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding Serbia’s compliance with Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which states that every child has the right to acquire a nationality. The report submitted by the state to the Committee did not address comments by Praxis related to still unresolved issues and the need for further improvements in exercising the right to birth registration and nationality, even though Praxis was asked to submit them by relevant state bodies. Hence, this submission was necessary in order to provide the Committee with further information to complement and fill out the gaps in the state report.

The Praxis, ISI and ENS submission highlighted challenges related to the exercise of the right of every child to acquire a nationality and the avoidance of childhood statelessness in Serbia as a result of discrimination, poor implementation of the law and challenges related to birth registration, as well as equal access to socio-economic rights and services.

Representatives of Praxis and ISI presented the submission before the Committee at the 74th Pre-Sessional Working Group, held in June 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland. Since all the relevant information was received in advance and on time, the submission and presentation process was conducted smoothly and efficiently. In addition, the assistance provided by Child Rights Connect through the participant registration process, briefing before the Pre-Sessional Working Group, and debriefing afterwards, was immensely useful. During the Pre-Sessional Working Group, Praxis and ISI provided responses to questions raised by the Committee on statelessness and related issues. The Committee members appeared to be aware of these issues in Serbia and were well prepared for the Working Group.

In light of the Committee’s previous recommendations to Serbia on the issue, state recommendations issued to Serbia during the second UPR cycle and the importance of the eradication of statelessness, Praxis engaged in this process in the hope that the Committee will raise the issue of the right of every child to acquire a nationality in its List of Issues for Serbia and subsequently address recommendations to the government of Serbia to further prevent and solve the problem of childhood statelessness in the country. In addition, in it’s Concluding observations on the combined second and third periodic reports of Serbia, the Committee notes as positive amendments to the Law on Non-Contentious Procedure that have corrected loopholes relevant for “legally invisible people” by establishing a procedure for determining the date and place of birth of unregistered persons, but is concerned that despite these amendments approximately 8,500 persons are not registered at birth, with the vast majority declaring themselves as Roma. The Committee is concerned that these people have limited access to basic rights such as health care, education and social protection. It recommends that the State party ensure full implementation of the new regulations that enable immediate birth registration of children whose parents do not have personal documents and initiate procedures to establish the nationality of children born to stateless parents or those whose nationality is unknown.

The Committee also shows concern regarding a number of asylum seeking and refugee children of undetermined citizenship who are currently at risk of becoming stateless in Serbia. It recommends that Serbia should guarantee the right to acquire Serbian citizenship for all children currently residing in the State party, who would otherwise be stateless regardless of their own, or their parent’s legal status.

The Committee's recommendations contribute to keeping the issue of child statelessness high on the state's agenda and, at the same time, they will be a strong advocacy tool for legal changes and improvement in protection framework. Praxis hopes that the state will take measures in accordance with relevant recommendations and hence, ensure prevention of statelessness at birth and full access to nationality related rights for everyone.

Even though CRC engagement is important, it also must be something which complements wider work on the issue, in order for it to be effective. There must be follow up on implementation, to ensure the state is making effective progress and implementing sustainable solutions. This entire process has been of extraordinary significance and the CRC is a very effective instrument with a far-reaching effect for any CSO aspiring to openly confront all issues connected to the problems children face in their respective countries.

A version of this article was first published in the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion’s the World's Stateless 2017 report. Part 1 of the report provides general updates on the state of statelessness around the world, with contributions from UNHCR and the regional statelessness networks (including ENS). Part 2 includes over 70 contributions by both the Institute and over 50 of its partners, on the situation of stateless children around the world and various steps that can be taken to address childhood statelessness. The six chapters in Part 2 focus on the right of every child to a nationality, migration and displacement, the sustainable development agenda, safeguards, litigation and mobilisation to address childhood statelessness.  You can explore Part 1 online at www.worldsstateless.org; and Part 2 at www.children.worldsstateless.org. From 1 March 2017, it will be possible to purchase hard copies of the report from Wolf Legal Publishers.

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