Social & Economic rights

Friday, 17 August 2018

Huge Hospital Bills for Undocumented Mothers

Due to inadequate regulations on the procedure of birth notification and registration into birth registry books, legally invisible children are still being born in Serbia. In cases where mothers do not possess personal documents, their children cannot be registered in birth registry books immediately after birth. Consequently, children remain excluded from the system of health care and social protection; their permanent residence cannot be registered and they cannot acquire citizenship.

In its work, Praxis continually encounters undocumented women who have given birth and who cannot register their children in birth registry books. In some cases, due to not possessing documents, mothers and their children not only lose the opportunity of receiving parental and child allowances and exercising their right to social assistance, but are also brought to the situation of being asked to pay for expenses, which does not happen to persons who possess personal documents. Moreover, sometimes they are asked to pay even for the expenses that they are not legally obliged to pay. It should be noted that in Serbia the problem of not possessing documents almost always affects members of the Roma national minority, who are among the poorest and most marginalised citizens.

Praxis was addressed by S.Z. seeking free legal aid. She did not have personal documents because the birth register book in which she had been registered remained unavailable to the authorities of the Republic of Serbia after the 1999 Kosovo conflict. She gave birth in late July, but - unlike mothers with an ID card - she was unable to determine her child's name in the maternity hospital, register the child’s permanent residence and register the child to health insurance. Moreover, she and her newborn were not allowed to leave the maternity hospital until she took the hospital bill in the amount of RSD 234,000. On that occasion, the mother and her cohabiting partner were told that they had to pay the bill within one month or to register to health insurance, otherwise they would be sued.

This conduct of a health care institution is contrary to the Law on Health Care, which prescribes that emergency funds (including childbirth) shall be provided from the budget of the Republic of Serbia for persons who do not exercise the right to urgent medical assistance otherwise. In addition, denying the mother the possibility to determine the child’s name in the maternity hospital is contrary to the instruction given within the framework of the project Baby, Welcome to the World, which simplified the birth registration process and allowed mothers who did not possess personal documents to register children in birth registry books.

N.A. faced a similar problem. She does not have documents because her mother did not have an ID card at the time of child delivery, and therefore she was not able to register her child into birth registry books. Consequently, N.A., who gave birth about a month ago, could not register her newborn child into birth registry books either. In her case, the maternity hospital did not ask for the payment of child delivery costs, but the child had to be hospitalised soon after birth where it was treated for seven days. Upon completion of treatment, the mother was asked to pay RSD 44,000.  In both cases, Praxis has pointed out to health care institutions that these cases should be treated as urgent and that patients should not be asked to pay the costs, but it remains to be seen whether the hospital will give up the intention to collect the payment.

Such situations would be avoided by registering every child into birth registry books immediately after birth, because it would allow the child to obtain a health card immediately as well as to access other rights. This would also ensure adherence to the principle according to which the best interest of the child must always be in the first place, as well as compliance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia and ratified international conventions guaranteeing to every child the right to birth registration and to a personal name immediately after birth.
Therefore, it is necessary to change, without delay, the provisions of the Instruction on administering civil registry books and forms of registry books and the Rulebook on the procedure for the issuance of birth notification and form of the issuance of birth notification in a health care institution, which prevent the birth registration of children whose mothers do not possess personal documents. This would prevent the generation of new legally invisible persons, and give an opportunity to a considerable number of children, who would otherwise be without documents, to get the necessary protection in the most vulnerable period of their lives. Therefore, in mid-July Praxis sent an appeal to the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-government, which is responsible for these regulations, to urgently amend the controversial provisions.

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Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action