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Children – phantomsMore than thousand Roma communities haven’t registered their children in the registry of births. Now, the children don’t have health insurance, neither go to school. Lawfully, they don’t exist.
Five  years old Roma girl crossed the street in Topansko Pole quarter in Skopje. She was walking to her home, tired, because she was begging whole day on one of the crossroads in Skopje. She didn’t notice the car that was moving with a great speed on the boulevard. There was a severe blow. In front of a lot of witnesses, the lifeless body of the girl lay down on the street. The five years old girl was rushed to the Emergency Center in Skopje immediately, but all the efforts her life to be saved were vain. Nearly five years later the case has no yet epilogue, and the driver was never responsible for the dispossessed life. Why? Because the girl was not register in the registry of births of the Republic of Macedonia. It’s a man – phantom. Nine years old boy from Tetovo was ran over by speeding car, too. Despite the litigation, the driver avoided the responsibility, because no one could prove that the boy really existed.

Two  lives were lost, for the registry – none. These children had no birth certificates, and therefore, they were not treated as existing Macedonian citizens. In the accident reports they were recorded like hit children. No name, no birth number. They are from the same ethnic group – Romas. They are dead, but according to the birth evidence, they were never born. A lot of years have passed by since their death.
However, after all, more than thousand Roma families in the country still live the same fate. In the project run by the First Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi, 840 children – phantoms have been identified, all of them who don’t possess birth certificates. 338 were not registered at all.
“There are countless reasons for occurrence of this situation. The lack of documentation by parents, the lack of finances, if the parents live in wedlock without precisely stated reason, if the mother has no proof that she was released from hospital after the birth, fear of punishment, ignorance, indifference of parents, children born at home, no proof of paternity, no place for regular residence, lack of information...,” says Dragi Zmijanac, execituve director of the First Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi. The problem to identify these children is even bigger. Nevertheless, it’s enough to walk by improvised homes in Shuto Orizari. Almost, there’s no family in whicjh all of the members are recorded in the birth registry.
Seven  people live in a house in Shuto Orizari. According to the law - only five. All three children of Sejfula Gjusefai have no birth certificates, they have no citizenship certificates, and therefore they have no rights as citizens of Republic of Macedonia. These children don’t go to school because they don’t possess documents, they can’t get health insurance, social or any other care by the state.

They haven’t document, we can’t get them because we don’t have money for that. I wish my children could go to school, to handle with life easier, and not be like me to go to the garbage containers,” says Gjusefai. She gave births home. When the birth pains started she called the closest friends and cousins to help her give birth. She says he did it because of fear that if she did that in hospital it would cost her a lot. She didn’t know that giving birth in public hospitals is free. Later, she wanted to report them in the registry, but she did not preserve the legal limit.


Shekerija Rustemi has the same fate as well. Both her children don’t exist lawfully. She gave birth in hospital, but at that time neither she had documents. Later she managed to get documents for herself, but not for her children. “I couldn’t, I didn’t manage to get birth certificates for my children. Simply, I can’t do anything for them. Unfortunately, that’s the true,” Rustemi says. We asked her if she at least could remember the birthdays of her children. “It was a long time ago. It was several years ago... I can’t remember, I don’t know when they were born,” she answered shortly. From the NGO Umbrella they say that these problems are appearing mostly due to lack of education in Roma population. Therefore, mothers who give births at home have fear of problems with law, if they miss the report limit there’s fear of prosecution, or they don’t know where they should report the birth of their children. “When the parents miss to report the birth on time, they start to fear of prosecution and punishment. Among the other reasons is the lack of information about the process of getting birth documents. Later, when they want to report their children, problems with the administration start to appear. They hardly handle with that administration labyrinth, and on the other hand they face with discrimination from the officers,” said Ljatife Shikovska from NGO Umbrella. The approach to Romas is much different compared to other citizens. When the officers notice that some document is missing, they don’t refer them to the right place. Their search for documents mostly ends there. Their children are alive in reality, but neither alive or death in official statistics. That’s why they call them people – phantoms. There are cases in which this NGO managed to help some people get birth certificates.


From  the NGOs they say that most of the unregistered children in Macedonia are Romas. They have no health insurance; they’re not included in the educational system, although according to the law there should be no citizen without health insurance. According to the education laws no child at age suitable for education should be out of the education system. “There’s no worse discrimination than the fact that the state doesn’t solve this issue for years, while NGOs, European Commission and other international organization in Macedonia warn about that,” says Zmijanac. NGOs say that it’s necessary an electronic system for collecting the needed data to be established as well as establishing helping services for registration in the municipalities. If the state wants to have real evidence of the citizens it should initiate law changes toward facilitating the registration and set an incentive packages for first registration of a child.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 everyone has a right of citizenship and no one can take it away from him without a reason. It’s a basic human right. Despite that, the international community faces with a number of cases of people without citizenship. From the Ministry of labor and social policy they admit that the lack of birth certificates, citizenships, IDs, passports, driving licenses, education, employment, residence... a long list of human right which are not an ideal, but necessity for a decent human life, a necessary reality. A lot of reports say that Romas are facing with difficulties while getting documents. However, there’s no data about the precise number of people facing with this issue.

“Goverment knows about the problem of the Romas’ access to documents. For overcoming this issue a working group formed. It’s composed of representatives of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, Ministry of Home Affairs, Cabinet of the Minister without portfolio, Department of Registry, UNHCR, UNICEF, Information Center for Civil Society, Roma NGOs and experts who work on this issue, to jointly prepare recommendations to the Government to overcome this problem. Having in mind that the problems related to not possessing documents for personal identification of Romas, especially in the states of former Yugoslavia, don not let them realize their basic human rights. The state authorities, civil organizations and international organizations say that immediate decisions for preventing and eradication of the lack of citizenship and protection of those persons are needed,” says representative from the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. The working group coordinated by this ministry has prepared measures for identifying of persons who don’t possess personal documents. These measures should be implemented by the end of 2012.

Should this happen is yet to see. Until then, the children of Sejfula and Shekerija will not know their birthdays; people who dispossessed someone’s life won’t be responsible because they’re not registered in the Registry.

(The registry is supported by Danish Association for Investigative Journalism and the SKUP project).
Journalist Meri Jordanova
Newspaper FORUM 28.02.2011