New Serbia briefing shows gaps in policy and practice on birth registration and childhood statelessness

22 Jan 2019 / Prevention and reduction / Serbia

Praxis is a non-governmental organisation based in Belgrade, Serbia dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights, with a focus on the issues most relevant to refugees, IDPs, and members of vulnerable minority groups. Statelessness is one of these key issues, which Praxis has been working to address through advocacy, provision of free legal aid to those at risk of statelessness, publishing human rights reports, and providing training and awareness raising.

Serbia is one of the countries covered by the Statelessness Index, a comparative tool developed and maintained by the European Network on Statelessness to compare and assess European countries’ law, policy and practice on the protection of stateless people and the prevention and reduction of statelessness, against international norms and good practice. The Statelessness Index data shows how, despite Serbia’s positive record on accession to international treaties, gaps in legal safeguards against childhood statelessness and birth registration requirements constrain efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness in practice.

To highlight these gaps, Praxis and the European Network on Statelessness have published a briefing in both English and Serbian focusing on these problems, as well as pointing to some positive solutions regarding birth registration.

Summary of key findings and recommendations

Serbian bylaws mean that children born in Serbia whose parents do not possess personal documents are denied the right to birth registration. Although the Serbian Government tried to solve this problem in 2016, the instruction introduced to simplify the procedure is not legally binding and contradicts the legally binding bylaws, meaning that nothing has changed in practice.

The Serbian Law on Citizenship provides for automatic acquisition of citizenship for foundlings, children of unknown or without citizenship, or if both parents are unknown. In practice this is not automatic, as parents or guardians must initiate a procedure for acquisition of citizenship by birth before the Ministry of the Interior, otherwise the child remains stateless. The procedure still does not guarantee that the child will acquire citizenship, and only applies to children under the age of 18. Despite significant progress to facilitate access to late birth registration, there are remaining practical challenges, including requests for fees from applicants who are exempt under the law.

The briefing provides recommendations to the Serbian Government to overcome these barriers, including amending its bylaws requiring parents’ documentation, to ensure universal immediate access to birth registration, regardless of the status of a child’s parents. It further recommends taking steps to ensure the Law on Citizenship is implemented in practice so that citizenship is acquired automatically to prevent childhood statelessness, as well as extending the time limit for citizenship acquisition so that young people born stateless in Serbia can acquire citizenship once they reach the age of majority. Finally, the Serbian Government is advised to ensure equal and adequate implementation of regulations for birth registration procedures before all bodies and in all individual cases to facilitate access to late birth registration.

By focusing on these findings from the Serbia Statelessness Index, the briefing shows both the progress made in Serbia in recent years to address statelessness, and the remaining gaps related to birth registration and stateless children born in Serbia, with clear actions for reform.

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