Justice

INVISIBLE CHILDREN

In the Republic of Moldova there are tens of thousands of undocumented children

Author: Cornelia Cozonac
01/06/2022 18798

In the 21st century, in the information age, there are invisible children in the Republic of Moldova, children who are not officially registered and do not have an identity. These children are not included in the statistics, they do not receive protection, health care and social benefits. Deprived of their rights, they are at huge risk of being exploited, trafficked or sold for organs. Nobody will look for them, because they don't officially exist. These undocumented children will remain on the edge of the "official" world for the rest of their lives. The Center for Investigative Journalism found that there was a huge discrepancy between the number of live births and the number of birth certificates issued by the authorities in the last five years. This difference is over 22 thousand, which means that so many children would not have identity documents, because the number of documents issued each year is several thousand less than the number of children born in the Republic of Moldova.

Seven-month-old baby undocumented officially

Alina Dovghii from Negureni village, Telenesti district, gave birth in December 2021 to a baby boy. The child is seven months old now, but he does not have a birth certificate, and his parents cannot complete his identity documents, because his mother does not have any documents either. From the maternity ward of the Mother and Child Institute, where Alina gave birth, she was given a confirmation stating only the birth, but based on this act, the child's birth certificate cannot be completed.

"At the Mother and Child Center they did not want to issue us a certificate because I do not have an identity card. I asked them to register him on my husband's name, because he owned documents but they didn't want to. They said they were not entitled. They gave us a certificate, but when we went to Telenesti to get the boy a birth certificate, they told us that they could not register our child. It must be a 13-digit certificate. We weren't even told what to do. We took a lawyer from Chisinau to solve our problem, we paid him 16 thousand lei but he always postpones it either because of covid, or war”, mother’s child says with a sigh.

 

The paradox is that Alina has another child, a 6-year-old girl, whom she gave birth to at the maternity hospital in Telenesti and from there they issued her birth certificate, based on which the parents could register the child. And then, as now, Alina did not have identity documents.

The woman did not receive maternity leave and any child-raising allowances.

Although Alina's son is already seven months old, no authority responsible for child protection was aware of the fact that this child is not officially registered and that he is at risk.

 

 

Abandoned by mother, raised by father

Alina's story is long. She and her brother Nicolae were born in Ukraine. The parents did not officially register their marriage, and the mother issued birth certificates for both children and registered them with her last name. Even the children's father was registered in the certificates with the mother's family name - Dovghii Vitalii, while his name is Margină (Marjina in IDs). Herefrom things get trickier, and this is where the true meaning of life lies.

Alina was already born in Moldova, but her mother  gave her a birth certificate in Ukraine. After a while, the mother left for Ukraine and left the children, one was four years old and the other only six months old, at the father's expense, in Moldova. And she never came back.

In Negureni, everyone knows Vitalie Margină and there were no problems when the children went to kindergarten or school. They benefited from necessary medical care. He did not receive social assistance, but Vitalie says that he did not even need it, he can do it himself.

Six years in search of identity

The boy faced problems when he had to complete his ID card. The birth certificate from Ukraine, even translated into Romanian, was not valid, because the children's father could not confirm that he was their father. And here from visits to various state institutions. Meanwhile, Alina also graduated from school. She got a certificate. She went to a vocational school. She studied, but at the end of her studies she did not get the graduation certificate as she did not have an ID. She could not even be officially hired to work. She wanted to continue her studies, but she couldn't. The issue of documents became more and more pressing. "We have been going to different institutions for six years, but everywhere we are told that they did not have such a case and I do not know what to do. At one point we were even recommended to go to Ukraine to complete their documents there, but how to cross the border, if the two of them don't even have IDs ", says Vitalie Margină.

 

Paternity test

In 2015 they decided to take the paternity test. The children went to court against their father to prove that he was their father. They hired a lawyer and the trial lasted quite a while, and Vitalie's paternity of his children was established. "In the end, the judge congratulated me on being a father. It was emotional, I had tears in my eyes. I raised them by myself, they were mine anyway, but if it was officially decided that they were my children ... I was happy ", says Vitalie, reliving those moments.

Even with the paternity test and the court's favorable decision, things did not go well with the children's documentation. Nicolae is 26 years old and still does not have any ID. He has to work mostly illegally, to hide when they perform checks at the construction companies where he works. Three children were also born in his family, but they are documented because their mother had documents.

 

The case of the undocumented child is unknown to the authorities

The local and district authorities, guarantors of the protection of the rights of each child, did not know, at the time I contacted them, anything about the 7-month-old child, who is not documented. This is despite the fact that starting with 2014 there is a law on children at risk that obliges the guardianship authorities to monitor and to take action in the case of every child who is in a vulnerable situation, whose rights are being violated. The Republic of Moldova, by signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, has committed itself to respecting the rights of the child as a matter of priority. The representatives of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection declared a few years ago that they will pass all the legislation and state policies through the prism of the child's rights so that every child can be protected.

The mayor of Negureni village, Ion Popa, knew the situation of Vitalie Margină's family, but he did not know anything about the undocumented child. "I know that this family had started the procedure for getting the documents, they also had a lawyer. Regarding the undocumented child, no one addressed the mayor's office and respectively we did not know that he would have problems ", Ion Popa told us in a phone call. The case from Negureni was not even known to the Child Protection Directorate in Telenesti. The head of the department, Angela Sârbu, admitted that she did not know that there was an undocumented child, but promised that she would contact her mother immediately, in order to get involved in solving the problem with the documents.

The state and the rights of the child

In the Republic of Moldova, the birth certificate is issued based on the finding medical birth certificate, issued by the health unit where the birth happened, the report and the certificate stating the sex and age of the child - in the case of a child found. The certificate confirming the birth and the birth certificate are issued only upon presentation by the mother of the identity card. The lack of it makes it impossible to issue the certificate and, implicitly, leads to the undocumentation of the child, which is recognized by the authorities and the law enforcement agencies.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, "a child is documented from the moment of birth and has the right to a name from that moment". This unequivocal wording is an obligation for all States, including the Republic of Moldova, which have ratified the Convention and require that this right be respected and protected.

No changes starting with 2009

We addressed the issue of undocumented children in a journalistic investigation in 2009. Then we investigated the case of Aliona Cantea from Orhei, who did not have identity documents and, like Alina, could not document her two children. The woman had two boys at the time. When she gave birth to her second child, she ran away from the maternity ward through the window, for fear that someone would take her child because she did not have ID. Aliona Cantea's older son,  7 years old, was initially not admitted to school on September 1, 2009. He was later enrolled after the publication of the "Unnamed Children" investigation. Subsequently, the authorities also decided and started, in 2010, to issue birth certificates to children in maternities. The procedure seems to have worked quite well for a while, but somewhere something has broken in this mechanism since it is not efficient now.

Aliona Cantea's case could not be solved by the Social Assistance from Orhei district. The woman tried to go to the Civil Registry Office in the district to ask for her mother's death certificate, but she was asked to identify herself. As she did not have an ID, the woman was ignored. The Social Assistance took action on behalf of the woman, but received a bewildering answer from the Civil Registry - that the beneficiary must show up. And that’s the end. However, after several years, Cantea managed to complete her documents and made identity documents for her children as well.

 

Aliona Cantea era nevoită să cerșească pentru ași întreține copiii 

More than 10 years after that case, we find that the situation has not changed. The authorities have repeatedly promised to take measures to protect children at risk. A law has been adopted in this regard, multidisciplinary teams have been set up in localities, consisting of representatives of the Police, Education and Health and the social worker, who should coordinate their actions so that each child can be monitored and helped.

 

Over 20,000 undocumented children?

As in 2009, we compared the statistics on live births and the number of birth certificates issued by the authorities, we found that the number of live births was several thousand times higher than the number of documents issued, we repeated the same exercise now.

We requested from the Ministry of Health data on the number of live births in the last five years (2017 - 2021), and from the Public Services Agency - data on the number of birth certificates registered in the same period.

We took the general data for comparison each year. The results terrified us. The number of children born each year is several thousand more than the number of birth certificates issued. There may be more birth certificates, as some parents whose children were born abroad, issue Moldovan birth certificates. For example, Dumitrița C. from a locality in Telenesti district gave birth in Germany in July 2019. Since both parents are from Moldova, they also gave the boy a Moldovan birth certificate. The child also has a German birth certificate.

For example, according to the Ministry of Health, 37,011 children were born in 2017. In the same year, 34,285 birth certificates were issued. With 2,726 fewer documents than children born. Even if we admit that some of the children were registered the following year, the statistics for 2018 are even more desolate. This year, 35,027 children were born, but birth certificates were issued - 23,182, the difference being exactly 11,845 (!). In 2019, 32,894 children were born, and the ASP services issued 29,152 certificates, with 3,742 fewer documents than children born. In 2020, 31,215 children were born and 29,726 birth certificates issued. The difference is 1,489. In 2021, 29,657 were born and 26,589 birth certificates were registered, the difference is 3,068 this year as well.

Therefore, if we add up all the figures that show the difference between the number of live births and the number of birth certificates issued by the Moldovan authorities, we get a number of 22,870. This would mean that more than 22,000 children who were born in the last five years do not have identity documents.

We do not yet have an official explanation for these statistics and this means that we will continue the investigation.

We requested the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection to tell us on the number of undocumented children in the Republic of Moldova. The request is still in the legal term in which we can get an official reply, ie, at the time of publication of this material, the 15 working days in which the public authority is obliged to reply to requests for information, had not expired.

An official from the ministry contacted us to explain what we meant when we wrote undocumented children. I told her that these were undocumented children and I deduced that it was difficult for her to understand that there could be officially undocumented children.

      

                                  

 

Children's rights Ombudsperson: A failure of the authorities

Children's rights Ombudsperson Maia Bănărescu admits that there are undocumented children in the Republic of Moldova, but she does not know its real number. She says that in 2017 she conducted a study on undocumented children and found that there were 189 officially undocumented children. She then made a series of recommendations to the guardianship authorities to eliminate the issues related to children's documentation. This year she would look at the extent to which the recommendations of the Children's rights Advocate were met. "It is a failure of the guardianship authorities responsible for child protection. The services do not communicate with each other. Everyone does their work from here to here and almost no one cares. They do not report on cases that end up to certain services. The problem of undocumentation arises when the child arrives at a service. We are talking about irresponsible parents who do not go to complete birth certificates or parents who do not have documents from generation to generation and it is a difficult procedure. This is where the authorities must intervene to guide them, to help them ", says Maia Bănărescu.

The child's lawyer promises to deal with the case of Alina Dovghii from Negureni, Telenesti.

Maia Bănărescu also says that every town hall should have a child protection specialist, according to Law 140 on children at risk, but town halls do not have money for these specialists and they are not active yet, although the law has been operational since 2014. The Children's rights Ombudsperson considers that child rights specialists should get a salary  from the public budget, as social workers.

"Undocumented children at risk of trafficking"

Elizaveta Iurcu has worked for many years as head of the Child Protection Department in Orhei. She helped dozens of families to complete their children's documents, in problematic cases, among them Aliona Cantea and her children, a case investigated by the team of the Center for Investigative Journalism. She is now retired, but she is well informed. "Any child who is left out of the protection system is at enormous risk. I had a case when a child was taken under another identity in the Russian Federation, they went out through the Transnistrian region. He was identified by authorities there as being detained for begging. It was difficult to bring him back, as he did not have an ID. In recent years, the documentation procedure has improved, maternity certificates are issued and the number of cases of undocumented children in Orhei district has decreased ", says Elizaveta Iurcu. Two years ago, when I was at the Child Protection in Orhei, I discussed with Mrs. Iurcu about the problem of children without identity documents and the difficult procedure of getting the identity and this is the interview.

Mariana Ianachevici, director of Ave Copiii, says that at the Așchiuță Center, which helps street children, children who do not have identity documents arrive every year and the organization tries to help them. Now, says Mariana Ianachevici, there are many high-risk refugee children in Ukraine, some without documents, others from placement centers. "It is important to monitor these children who stay in Moldova or who have moved on because the risk of being exploited or trafficked is very high," says Mariana Ianachevici.

The team of the Center for Investigative Journalism will continue to document this topic. Aliona Dolghii's case was referred to the Center by Aliona's mother-in-law, Ludmila Cristea, who currently works abroad.

If you know cases of undocumented children, please contact us at [email protected] or [email protected].

The investigation is being carried out as part of the "Investigative Journalism for Transparency and Good Governance" project, conducted by the Center for Journalistic Investigations, with the financial support of the US Embassy in Moldova. The content of the investigation is the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the US Embassy in Moldova.

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