Part #3 Serbia: Bangor University Law School and Wales Observatory for Youth and Human Rights – ‘Children Displaced Across Borders’ Project Serbia Field-research
During the Fall academic year in 2017, Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and its conduit to peaceful determination for children brought Dr. Tanya Herring from Bangor University Law School and the Wales Observatory for Youth and Human Rights’ ‘Children Displaced Across Borders’ project to Serbia. Depicted In the photograph, Dr. Herring stands with the Bangor University – Wales’ Observatory banner alongside Serbian teacher, Goran Zivanovic after an onsite visit at Tehnicka skola Valjevo (The Secondary School of Technical Education) in Serbia: http://www.tehnickaskolava.rs/ shown in the photograph above. Dr. Herring also had an opportunity to discuss with the UNCRC influence in schools with Serbian teacher, Slavoljub Djordjevic, from a Vuk Karadzic school, shown in the picture below:
Dr. Herring has followed the observation protocols of qualitative field research during both visits and identified a two-fold purpose. First, the research focused on investigating the implementation of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in Serbian schools. Secondly, her socio-legal research on the Rohingya children in comparison to Roma children, who are also largely stateless, displaced, exiled, and vulnerable to human trafficking for her critical-case study. Conjunctively, Dr. Herring investigates Member States’ international law crime prevention and protection obligations under the Palermo Protocol for forced-displaced refugee and migrant children. The outcomes of her study will result in a Model-of-Practice monograph for practitioners to aid in advocating for international prevention measures and protection measures against human trafficking and all forms of child exploitation. Additionally, under the second scope of the field-research, Dr. Herring seeks to gain a better understanding of how Member States can share best-practices and further support the UNCRC under the auspices of the Wales Observatory for Youth and Human Rights’ ‘Children Displaced across Borders’ project, which works collectively with a host of countries, institutions, and practitioners collaborators and partners across the globe (http://www.swansea.ac.uk/law/wales-observatory/).
The Children. Her field notes indicate both descriptive and reflective notes that denote Serbian schools have done an exceptional job of integrating the UNCRC through various modes, to include elective modules and day-to-day activities that extended to teachers, who attested to several integration efforts throughout the Serbian school system as a whole. Reflections of the UNCRC’s presence can be seen in the very well-organized and equipped facilities with pleasant and extremely polite Serbian children, who are encouraged to grow, develop with guidance in accordance with each article of the UNCRC (http://www.tehnickaskolava.rs/).
However, Dr. Herring’s field-research also included investigating the Roma population’s issues of statelessness and school attendance. The field-notes in this instance reflected two-key issues that were prominent – Roma children begging and pandering during school hours and the administration of birth registration issues. In regard to birth registration, under Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (“UNCRC”): ‘The child shall be registered immediately after birth…’ and contrasting Serbian national law brings challenges to a clear and precise process to birth registration process that historically has an adverse impact upon the exiled, stateless, and vulnerable children of populations, specifically in this instance the Roma. According to Serbian law on the manner of administering the birth registry books Article 23 states:
The registrar is obliged to register data in the register without delay.
Exceptionally, registration may be deferred in order to verify or ascertain the missing data to be entered in the register.
A separate record is kept of delayed registrations.
The subsequent text, Article 25 states:
If the data on birth or death is reported after the expiry of 30 days from the day of birth or death, the registrar may enter the data in the birth registry book only on the basis of the decision of the competent body.
The bolded language in the text of both Article 23 and 25 of Serbian law is ambiguous and can and has led to confusion and the exercise of discretion of the representative(s) providing the services, which is subjective and can be discriminatory. Moreover, Article 7, of the UNCRC encompasses no similar exception, and neither does Article 24 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which contains a very similar right to immediate birth registration.
Field notes also reflect that Roma children are begging and pandering during school hours. Children, possibly as young as seven to ten years of age approached the researcher throughout the day, fluent in the Serbian language, begging. Also, postured in front of the wedding registrar’s office, the Roma, from a wide-range of age groups, appear to regularly pander by using musical instruments to play celebratory songs while couples and their families attempt to enter and exit the facility for weddings throughout the weekday and weekends. In this instance, there are also opportunities for Serbian authorities to strictly enforce laws that all children, of school age, are in school. Also, pandering and nuisance loitering, which observations indicate foster a high degree of animosity among the general population, can be curtailed by civil enforcement of associated laws, especially in the vicinity of public civil process buildings.
Solution-focused. There are a number of solutions that Serbian law can allow to eliminate discrimination and to clarify the law, which includes first striking the existing language and complying explicitly with the UNCRC and ICCPR. Secondly, at a minimum, improving the transparency of the process by placing prominently placed signage clarifying the process, campaigning to promote registration, and identifying processes to prevent delays ‘before’ the 30-day expiration after the day of birth or death. More importantly, providing layman’s language that identifies and presents the criteria and outlines the process used by the ‘decision of the competent body’ to register beyond the 30-day expiration period. There is voluminous data to support that forced displaced, shunned, exiled populations, and the vulnerability of their children hinders the capacity to ensure timely birth registration. UNICEF’s 2002 published works on Birth Registration lists a host of factors that adversely contribute to the delay and hindrance of birth registration, which includes examples of the birth registration administration process and laws as seen in Serbia: https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/digest9e.pdf
However, field-research also indicated that the Roma populations, especially the children, remain largely detached from the general population in Serbia. Direct observations, unfortunately, reflect that begging and pandering appear to remain a tradition among the population of all ages, with children begging and pandering during school hours. Encounters among the streets of Serbia has led to conclusions that the Roma remain an exiled group and continue to face challenges in some of the basic processes that include birth registration and compliance with school attendance. Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (“UNCRC”) states: ‘The child shall be registered immediately after birth…’
My research into the law shows that Article 23(2) of Serbia’s Law on Registries denotes: ‘The registrar is obliged to register data in the register without delay’. However, upon further review of Serbia’s Article 23(3): “Exceptionally, registration may be deferred in order to verify or ascertain the missing data to be entered in the register”. Subsequently, there is a lack of clarity on what defines a case as ‘exceptional’ or how long registration can be deferred. As a result, the field-research supports the comparator population hypothesis that Roma children are highly likely to be exploited, poor, and uneducated, which require Member States to exercise more prevention and protection measures from their respective ratified international law instruments targeted for this study – the UNCRC and the Palermo Protocols. This field research further qualifies the legal premise that legal empowerment is the link to peaceful self-determination.
Dr. Tanya Herring, ICO Research Fellow
Ph.D., Doctor of Management, Doctor of Laws Candidate, International Criminal Law and Human Rights Bangor University Law School, Bangor, Wales UK and Researcher, Wales Observatory for Youth and Human Rights