Social & Economic rights

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

The case of a boy from Doljevac whose name has been determined after thirteen years

The case of a boy, who was identified by Praxis staff during their visit to Doljevac in 2020, demonstrates how failures in the work of institutions can affect the lives of citizens and their access to basic rights. A sixth-grade primary school pupil did not have a determined personal name for thirteen years. His parents failed to determine his personal name within the legal deadline, and the father did not recognise paternity.

After the parents went abroad, the boy's grandparents took care of him and his siblings, and after their death, the children lived alone in Doljevac for several months, until their father returned from abroad. The boy's mother left the family many years ago. The boy now lives with his brothers, two of whom are adults.

In such situations, the social welfare centre is obliged to take measures and perform activities to regulate the child’s personal status and enable his or her access to basic rights, in the best interest of the child. The guardianship authority was obliged to conduct a procedure and adopt a decision on determining the child’s personal name, and then to adopt a decision appointing a guardian in order to regulate the boy's personal status, and particularly his registration to health insurance.

Considering that in one of the field visits Praxis staff established that the boy did not have a determined personal name, they helped with submitting a request for determining a personal name to the Social Welfare Centre in Doljevac.

As there was no response to the submitted request, Praxis sent a letter to the Social Welfare Centre in Doljevac requesting information on the status of the case. In the telephone conversations that followed, Praxis reminded the Centre’s lawyer, supervisor and social worker of the fact that the Law on Family required the guardianship authority to determine the child's personal name in such cases, and that it was in the child's interest to be formally recognised before the law. Praxis then stressed that the boy, due to the lack of documents, was deprived of basic rights, and in particular the right to health care and education.

The Centre’s representatives considered that it was not possible to determine the personal name of the child without the participation of his parents. Given that the guardianship authority still did not adopt a decision on the submitted request, Praxis sent an urgency letter, after which the Centre responded with a notification of the inability to conduct a procedure for determining the child's personal name, because the child's mother did not reside at the address covered by the Social Welfare Centre. The boy's mother lives in Germany and does not have a valid ID card.

The Social Welfare Centre is obliged to assign a name to every child, if it is not determined within the legal deadline, regardless of any circumstances, including whether the mother can participate in the procedure. The Constitution, the Law on Family, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantee every child the right to be registered into birth registry books and to have a personal name.

In the meantime, the boy's older brothers went to the Social Welfare Centre in Doljevac on their own with the intention to regulate the personal status of their minor brother. After repeatedly insisting with this guardianship authority to take measures to solve the boy's status, as they told Praxis, the Centre threatened to relocate the boy and place him in a foster family, after which they stopped contacting the guardianship authority.

Praxis has learned from the boy's brothers that the boy was diagnosed with diabetes last year. The boy experienced various symptoms for several days, after which the paediatrician of the Health Centre in Doljevac agreed to examine him, despite the fact that the child did not have a health card. The blood test revealed a high sugar level, after which the boy was urgently transported to the Clinical Centre Niš, where they initially refused to admit him for not having a health card. Since his health condition was critical, the boy was finally hospitalised. After being discharged from the Clinical Centre Niš, the boy could not be examined by an endocrinologist because he did not have a birth certificate or a health card. The boy bought all the medical devices and supplies necessary for the control of blood sugar levels, which he would have obtained for free if he had been registered to health insurance. The boy bought the necessary supplies when and if the family had the money.

Due to the seriousness of the situation and the boy's health condition, and due to the omissions in the work of the Social Welfare Centre, Praxis addressed the Protector of Citizens to take action within its purview and to control the legality of the Centre's actions. The UNHCR, the Protector of Citizens and the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government of the Republic of Serbia signed the Agreement of Understanding, with the aim of resolving the outstanding problems faced by undocumented persons. Their representatives are also the members of the Task Force set up on the basis of this Agreement.

Although Praxis repeatedly, during more than nine months, pointed out to the need to resolve the boy's case and the Centre's unlawful actions, it was only after the Protector of Citizens controlled the legality of the Social Welfare Centre's actions that the guardianship authority initiated a procedure for determining the child's personal name. The results were fully visible two months after the involvement of the Protector of Citizens in this case.

The Social Welfare Centre in Doljevac adopted a decision determining the personal name for the boy. His personal name was registered, his Citizen Unique Personal Number (JMBG) was determined and the fact of his citizenship was registered in the registry office in Niš. It was only then, thirteen years after his birth, that the boy obtained the necessary documents, which finally enabled him to exercise the right to health insurance, which he desperately needed. The Social Welfare Centre in Doljevac obtained a birth certificate and, in cooperation with the branch office of the Republic Health Insurance Fund in Doljevac, registered the boy for health insurance.

This finally solved the case of the boy from Doljevac who had been deprived of access to basic rights for thirteen years because his personal name had not been determined. The case was solved within two months of addressing the Protector of Citizens, thanks to the cooperation established within the Task Force, based on the Agreement of Understanding between the UNHCR, the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government and the Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia. Although this case has finally been successfully resolved, it shows that in practice a lot of work remains to be done to strengthen capacity, as well as to sensitise officials about the special position and needs of persons from the marginalised groups, so that all citizens can access their basic rights. The examples like this (the boy from Doljevac) show us the extent to which legal aid and also advocacy are necessary and important in such cases. Despite the successes that have been achieved so far in this area, unfortunately, in the field and in practice in general we continue to meet people who still do not have personal documents and, as a consequence, lack the opportunity to exercise basic rights.

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