By Angelos Anastasiou
IN A bid to curb the phenomenon of new-born babies going unregistered, the government is considering eliminating fees and penalties for the issuance of birth certificates, Commissioner for Children’s Rights Leda Koursoumba said on Tuesday.
Part of the problem is that some doctors refuse to issue documentation to cash-strapped parents who have not paid the mother’s hospital charges, which would allow a subsequent birth registration.
And, the longer that is left, the more expensive it becomes with the addition of government penalties to the point where it is unaffordable for many in the current economic climate.
In a statement, Koursoumba’s office said the commissioner met with minister of the interior, Socratis Hasikos, and health, Giorgos Pamboridis, to discuss legislation and regulatory practices governing registration and issuance of a birth certificate.
According to the statement, the Commissioner stressed the need to update existing legislation, in order to eliminate instances of children going unregistered, which leaves them exposed to various violations of their rights.
Koursoumba’s office noted that existing regulations are problematic, resulting in the government having an incomplete picture with regard to the number of births in the areas it controls.
According to a position drafted by Koursoumba’s office, 36 per cent of children under five years of age have not been registered globally.
“To date there is no research recording the number of unregistered children in Cyprus, nor any identifying the factors that could hinder the registration of births,” Koursoumba noted in her position.
However, she noted that she started looking into the matter after she received 15 reports of children, whose ages ranged from 2 weeks to 5 years old, who had had no birth certificate issued during the period from 2008 to 2014.
“Of these, 10 cases involved a refusal by seven different doctors to hand the parents with the documentation required for registration, as leverage for payment of delivery fees,” Koursoumba said.
“The remaining five cases involved practical difficulties during registration, which were faced by families with characteristics classifying them as vulnerable, e.g. low-income families, immigrant families illegally residing in the country, single parents.”
During her research, Koursoumba had found that the fee to register a child within 15 days of birth was €5, but after these two weeks parents were penalised. From 15 days to three months of birth, a birth certificate would cost an additional €30, whereas following the three-month deadline the penalty rose to €150.
“The imposition of a fee, and, in cases of late registration, a surcharge, is in my view a significant obstacle to the registration of children, which tends to impact vulnerable groups among the public, already facing various problems with registering their children, thus defeating the intended purpose,” Koursoumba had reported in June.
During discussion, the two ministers gave assurances of their political will to press ahead with necessary legislative amendments, and pledged to consider measures that will minimise, to the extent possible, the chance of a child remaining unregistered, Koursoumba said.
The statement added that Hasikos issued instructions for consideration of the full abolition of registration fees and penalties for late registration – designed as a counter-incentive to non-registration – as well as the drafting of administrative directives to all government services involved to apply all legal provisions.
Pamboridis, the Commissioner’s office said, instructed the health ministry to look into possible ways of incorporating the obligation to register children at birth into the prerequisites for licensing a healthcare facility.
Koursoumba welcomed the two minister’s “positive attitude and political will”, and expressed the hope that the measures will be adopted as soon as possible, the statement said.