chapter  8
16 Pages

Children’s rights: A critical geographic perspective

ByStuart C. Aitken

Two relatively recent struggles highlight the importance of understanding that young people’s rights are geographically variable. In the early 2000s, as Slovenia prepared for accession to the European Union, a series of rights abuses came to light. These violations involved the official “erasure” of over 25,671 people (mostly ethnic Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and some Roma) from Slovenia’s permanent residential register in 1991, thereby denying them legal status and an opportunity for citizenship. Official statistics enumerate 5,360 of the erased as under 18 years of age (Kogovšek 2010, 133). Izbrisani (“erased”) infants were entered into the Slovenian register of births as citizens of anotherYugoslav republic, but often the republics in question were not informed of the birth. In that jus sanguinis was used to grant citizenship, it did not matter that these children were born in and lived their whole life in Slovenia. Not only were they denied rights and legal status in Slovenia, they were not claimed by any other former Yugoslavian states. Erasure led to stateless children. For years, these young people were literally locked-in-place with few rights and considerable privations. The direct consequences of losing status during the erasure process included loss of health insurance, no state-funded schooling beyond primary level, little likelihood of attaining legal employment and no possibility of legally driving a car or getting married.Other aspects of erasure included daily exposure to the sometimes arbitrary conduct of police officers and bureaucrats, thereby limiting free movement and access to information. The contexts of erasure sometimes showed up as strictures and rebukes, as detention and expulsions, or as denial of access in processes that seemed capricious and at the whim of bureaucrats. In a subtle form of state violence, during the 1990s and early 2000s, erased young people were isolated one from another, and blame for their misery was placed squarely on their and their family’s shoulders. The situation was sufficiently dire for erased resident Aleksander Todorovic´ that he began a hunger strike at Ljubljana Zoo in February 2002 and, by so doing, brought the plight of the Izbrisani to the attention of the

media. From this action the Association of the Erased Residents was created, which not only provided a political focus for the group, it also created a forum for the collection of erasure stories (cf. Zorn and Lipovec Čebron 2008). A series of hunger strikes in 2005 began at the Croatian border and then moved to the UNICEF headquarters in Ljubljana to publicize the children who were part of the erasure. In 2006 a group of Izbrisani (including young people), activists and lawyers drove to the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg in what was dubbed “The Caravan of the Erased” to highlight, among other things, the plight of erased children.1