Thousands of Moldovan children do not have ID cards. They do not appear in the statistics, do not get protection, healthcare, and social benefits. Without any piece of identification, they risk to remain at the margin of the “official” world for the rest of their lives

Ruslan has turned 7 but does not attend school because he doesn’t have a birth certificate. His brother Ianos, who is 4, doesn’t go to the kindergarten for the same reason. He has been ill for one week but no doctor came to see him. “We treat our younger son as we can, with old wife’s remedies, because we don’t have money to buy him medicines,” Aliona, the children’s mother, says. “I was asked to pay for everything at the policlinic as I don’t have healthcare insurance and he doesn’t have a birth certificate. I paid 44 lei for the X-ray– as for an adult,” she says. She says that, since she gave birth to her children, the family doctor came to visit them only once, in winter, when he vaccinated one of her sons.

Aliona Cantea is 24 and has never had identity documents. She comes from a Romany family from Chisinau and was born, as she says, “in the tent”, that is, in a gipsy camp. Her mother died when the girl was only 11. She was brought up by her mother’s relatives from Orhei where she remained to live. She didn’t attend school, she cannot write and hardly reads Russian letters only if they are capitals. She got married eight years ago but because she didn’t have an ID card, they couldn’t register their marriage officially. They live in a small house of Aliona’s brother. They don’t have a TV or radio set because there is no electricity in the house. She wants to send her son to school although she acknowledges that she doesn’t have money to buy him the necessary things. “The school administration told me that they cannot accept him if he doesn’t have a birth certificate.” “If you don’t have documents, don’t know how to write a request or to read, nobody considers you human; no matter where you go, nobody pays attention to you. You cannot get a job, not even as a cleaning woman or a street sweeper,” Aliona complains. She wants that at least her children don’t follow her fate.

The Orhei Social Assistance Service knows about Aliona’s case. Elizaveta Iurcu, a specialist in the protection of children and families in difficulty says that she explained to the woman step by step what she has to do to get documents for her children. “The father has an ID and the children were born at the maternity hospital. First, their paternity must be certified and then they must be registered at the Registry Office,” Iurcu says, specifying that the social assistants intervene only when there is nobody who could deal with all the necessary procedures. “In this case, the parents had to inform us if the maternity hospital or another public institution refused to give them the requested documents and we would have intervened. But they did not come to us with regard to the school or when their younger son fell sick. That’s why children suffer.” Elizaveta Iurcu promised us to help Ruslan attend school this year.

Over the last years, the Orhei Social Assistance Division managed to identify a number of unregistered children and get identification documents for them. In the case of a girl from Peresecina village, the identity establishing procedure lasted 4 years. The case was brought to court, expert analyses were carried out, including for establishing the age of the child. The girl had been left with her grandfather by her mother who went to Ukraine and who hasn’t contacted them ever since. It was agreed with the administration of the village school that the girl would attend school although she had no documents. Other two problematic cases under examination are related to several children who were illegally brought from Russia. The cooperation with the Russian Embassy and the Russian authorities is difficult, that is why, according to Elizaveta Iurcu, the process of obtaining all needed documents is hard.

Without Documents from Generation to Generation

The Parliamentary Advocate for Children’s Rights, Tamara Plâmădeală, says there are families where three consecutive generations have been without documents: the grandmother, mother and granddaughter. In order to get documents for the child, the mother and grandmother should get their documents done first. According to the ombudsperson, the biggest problem is poverty, the lack of information of the population about their rights and obligations, the irresponsibility and indifference of parents, and the local public administrations. The problem is more serious in communities with Roma people. In some villages of the Nisporeni district, about 20% of the children do not have identity documents and don’t attend school. In the Bârsan family from Nisporeni district, the grandmother, the daughter aged 20 and the granddaughter who is very little have not had any identity documents. In their case, the National Roma Center (NRC) got involved and managed to help Efimia Bârsan get documents, but in her daughter’s case, things are not progressing much. ”We got to the stage when the judge asked for the DNA test to be made for the mother and the daughter, the NRC director Nicolae Radiţa says, specifying that the tests cost over 700 lei (EUR 50), money that neither the Center not the respective family has. The DNA test was requested because Efimia Bârsan’s daughter was registered as a boy at the maternity hospital where she was born. Twenty years ago Efimia Bârsan gave birth to twins – a girl and a boy. The boy died shortly after being born, while the girl has grown up and now she is the spit and image of her mother. Nevertheless, because of the error committed by those who recorded the birth in the Registry of Births, the woman cannot get her identity documents now. That is why her child has no documents either.

The NRC director acknowledges that documentation among Roma population is a serious problem and that this phenomenon is spreading as there are families in which nobody is documented or it is only the father who has identity documents. Therefore, the problem of children documentation arises.

The Government and Children’s Rights

In Moldova, a birth certificate is registered on basis of a document stating the birth, which is issued by the healthcare facility where the birth took place, the minutes and a certificate stating the sex of the child – if a child is found. The medical document stating the birth and the medical birth certificate can be issued only if the mother presents her ID card. If she does not have an ID card, a certificate cannot be issued and, implicitly the child cannot be documented, this being acknowledged by the authorities and the law enforcement bodies. At the same time, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, “the child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name.” This unequivocal provision is an obligation for all member states that have ratified the Convention, including Moldova, and calls for the observance and protection of this right.

“The fact that the mother doesn’t have an ID card, lacks the money to get documents, or any other reasons arising because of the Moldova internal legal framework shouldn’t hinder the registration of a newborn child,” the children’s ombudswoman Tamara Plămădeală says. In such situations, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children should be applied in the best interest of the child, and the state, through its agencies, should register the child immediately after its birth. According to the Law on the Civil Status Acts, such agencies are the Registry Offices and the Mayor’s Office of a corresponding administrative unit (in communes and villages). The hindrances to the registration are sometimes trivial and are engendered by some bureaucratic gaps and the fact that state body representatives do not know the law, says Alex Zubco of the Promolex Association, who assisted a mother from Varniţa village, Tighina, whose children were born in Turkey and had Turkish documents and who, after having arrived in Moldova, strived for more than 1 year to get documents in accordance with the Moldovan law. All that time her children could not go to the kindergarten or to get social benefits, and one of them risks now not be admitted to school.

Child without Documents Sold for One Dollar

The consequences of not registering births can be tragic. These children, says Ion Oboroceanu, director of the Căuşeni-based Law Center, can be easily trafficked for sex or work, or for organ harvesting, and nobody would know that, nobody would be looking for them because they are not registered anywhere. A number of cases have been attested over the past years in Moldova when new born children were left on the thresholds of maternity hospitals orfound alive or dead in trash cans. There was a case in a northern district of Moldova when a mother came to the maternity hospital with another woman’s ID card and the child was registered in the name of the latter. The prosecutors who dealt with that case say that this could be a fake adoption. In June inst, the case of Oxana Elinciuc from Briceni, aged 29, who tried to sell her child of only 10 days for 12 lei (one dollar), shocked the public opinion. Elena Toderaşcu from Bălti took the baby girl from fear for her life and then reported the case to the police. Ten days after her birth the little girl had no documents and was not registered anywhere because she had been delivered ... in a garage. The same day the police arrested the baby’s mother. In this case, the baby was lucky to get into the hands of people who cared about her, but what would have happened if the child had got into the hands of traffickers or if she had been sold for organ harvesting?

Children without documents are permanent clients of the Chisinău Temporary Foster Care Center and of other similar centers in Moldova. They are arrested while roaming or begging in the town and brought there by the police. Most of them have no documents, do not attend school and can’t read or write. On the streets, they only learn to count money. In the last years, the clients of the Center were two sisters aged 10 and 14 from the Durlesti suburb of Chişinău, who were brought there by the police because they were begging or selling flowers on the street. The girls never attended school. They ran away from home because their mother and step father beat them. Their mother didn’t get documents for them and had no remorse for that, although she was warned by the police.

The “Save the Children” Organization also receives every year children who have never been documented. Last year, two brothers aged 4 and 5 from Vatra town, a suburb of Chisinau, were brought here. Their mother was an alcoholic and didn’t care about them. It was hard to get documents for them. Then the children were adopted and now they have a family. “The government is to be blamed for this situation in the first place as it does not exercise its obligation of protecting children’s rights and interests,” believes Mariana Ianachevici, the chairperson of “Save the Children”. “If a child is not entitled yet to vote, it is of no interest to the members of government and politicians. The Government should issue birth documents to children from vulnerable families free of charge and thus be able to follow the fate of every child,” she says.

Delivered at Home

It is hard to prepare identity documents for babies delivered at home. Although the law provides that birth certificate can also be prepared on the basis of the document stating the birth, which was issued by the doctor who delivered the baby or by the healthcare facility in whose area the child was born, a number of families faced bureaucratic difficulties before they managed to register their children. In the case of the Fedotov family from Chişinău, although a doctor delivered the baby at home, the Registry Office did not want to register the child because its birth had not been certified by a healthcare facility.

in the Transnistrean Region

The situation is specific in the Transnistrean region, which is under the Tiraspol secessionist regime. The local authorities refuse to register births and issue identity documents to newborn children if the father or the mother present an ID card issued by the authorities from the right side of Nistru. Such a case was monitored by Promolex Association. According to the lawyer Alex Zubco, a young father from Râbniţa could not get a birth certificate for his child because he did not have documents issued by the Transnistrean authorities. There are many similar cases in the region, the lawyer says. Therefore children with documents registered at Moldovan Registry Offices cannot attend kindergartens and schools. They do not receive benefits either from Moldovan authorities or from the administration of the Transnistrean region. According to some information of “Save the Children” the Organization, there are many undocumented children in the Transnistrean region. Mariana Ianachevici says that children without documents cross the border illegally and go to Odessa to beg. Minors from this region are specialized in crossing the border through cornfields and uncontrolled areas. They know the schedule of the border guard patrols and slip by when the guards are away. We will come with details about the situation of Transnistrean children in one of our next investigative articles.

Number of “Forgotten” Children is Unknown

No Moldovan state authority knows the number of children and even of adults who couldn’t enjoy the right to have an identity. This issue does not exist at the official level. Nor does international statistics mention the fact that children’s right to have an identity is violated in Moldova. However, the reality turns out to be harsh.

Representatives of the Ministry of Social Protection, Family and Child say that the documentation of the population is carried out by the Ministry of Informational Development (MID), but the latter tracks only the persons who have birth certificates. The children’s advocate asserts that there are between 8 and 50 children without documents in every Moldovan district. Ion Oboroceanu, the director of the Căuşeni-based Law Center, told us that there were over 80 children without identity documents in the Căuşeni district alone and between 50 and 70 in the neighboring districts Anenii-Noi, Ştefan Vodă and Cimişlia. In the last two years, 53 children were documented in Căuşeni district with the efforts of the local public administration and the Law Center. There are currently 11 children in Cahul district who are being issued identity documents, said Elena Bacalu, Main Specialist Children’s Rights Protection. She assumes their number is much higher as “children without documents are identified only in the villages where the social assistants are active and mayors care about what happens in their communes, but there are localities where the local administration does not rack its brains about the vulnerable families and their children.” In Cahul district, the phenomenon of minors going abroad illegally, particularly to Italy and Switzerland, has spread over the last two years. The local police and prosecutor’s office haven’t managed to establish the channel through which minors from Cahul go abroad and cannot say whether this happens through a network of traffickers. Elena Bacalu admits that undocumented children can be taken out from the country with fake documents through such channels.

The registration of a child’s birth certificate is done upon the joint statement or the statement of one of the parents at the Registry Office and it is an obligation of the parents. If parents deliberately fail to fulfill this obligation in the timeframe provided by the law (3 months from the child’s birth), they can be subject to an administrative sanction in the form of a fine of several minimal wages. Nevertheless, the law does not establish the body that should oversee such situations. According to the General Prosecutor’s Office, “in 2006, a large number of incidents were identified when children were not registered or births were registered late, and the number of children without documents was over 600. In 2008, 200 children were found unregistered. To bring this situation to a normal state, the prosecution bodies initiated administrative cases against parents who were responsible for registering their children. The responsible persons have been notified and judicial actions have been filed in connection with the children’s births.” Still, prosecutors did not want to give more details about the undocumented cases and the penalties imposed.

Over Five Thousand Unregistered Children

The number of births registered at the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the number of birth certificates registered at MID differs significantly from year to year and from one institution to another. If in 2005-2006, at national level, the number of birth certificates was by several hundreds higher than the number of births, at local level, virtually in every district, the number of children born alive was much higher than the number of registered certificates. For instance, in 2005 in Floreşti, 882 children were born and only 684 birth certificates registered, in 2006, 963 children were born and 720 documents were registered, in 2007, 963 children were born and 719 birth documents were registered. Therefore, in the Floreşti district alone, the number of unregistered children was 198 in 2005, 243 in 2006 and 144 in 2007. Similar cases are attested in Hânceşti, Glodeni, Căuşeni, Făleşti, Cahul, and Teleneşti districts.

In 2007, the statistics reversed. MoH shows that 37,973 births were registered, while MID registered only 35,029 certificates, the difference being of approximately 3 thousand children unregistered. The districts with the highest numbers of unregistered children are: Floreşti -144, Făleşti – 127, Cahul -115, Teleneşti – 114, Cimişlia – 106, Hânceşti – 104, Nisporeni and Călăraşi – 78 each, Străşeni – 77, Sângerei – 75. Taking into account the fact that tens of children are delivered at home yearly and sometimes they are not included in the statistics, and that a high number of children are brought from abroad and documents are issued to them, then the real number of unregistered children could be of over 5 thousand, for the past 4-5 years alone (!).

Statistics “Adjusted” to “Settle” the Problem?

Surprisingly, the statistics of the two ministries for 2008 look pretty good. This time, it is MID that registered by 300 birth documents more than the number of births registered by MoH. This happened after the raporteur of the European Council, Ruth Gaby Vermot-Mongold, came to Moldova at the end of 2007 as she got signals indicating that there were cases in this region of child trafficking and disappearance of newborns from maternity hospitals. Moldovan authorities and the NGOs have largely denied, in a single voice, the occurrence of trafficking in newborns. At the same time, the Prosecutor’s Office admitted that newborns can be trafficked if they are not documented (!). Shortly after the visit of the European MP, the MID and MoH convened in a joint meeting to discuss the issue of undocumented children. The press wasn’t offered much information about this, but the statistics for 2008 was adjusted, as we have seen, so that it does not look striking for the European forums. Thus, the issue of undocumented children risks to not be included in the government’s agenda No figures, no problems.

ID Cards for Newborns – A Partial Solution

A simplified procedure of free registration and documentation of newborn babies directly at maternity hospitals was established in May 2009. ID cards are issued to babies together with the ID supplement but without a photo, signature and biometric data of the holder. This could be a solution but it’s only a partial one, because the decision is left at the discretion of the mother, who may not want to get an identity document for the child at the maternity hospital. Natalia P. from Dubăsari district gave birth to a boy in May inst, at a maternity hospital in Chişinău. She refused to get an ID card for her baby because she was supposed to change her last name and wanted the child to be registered with that name too. Therefore, the same happens with parents who, for various reasons, do not get identity documents for their children and then no authority checks whether the parents fulfilled their obligation of registering their child.

This investigation has been produced with the support of the Danish Association of Investigative Journalists FUJ/SCOOP