Serbia passes law in response to missing babies scandal

BELGRADE, SERBIA (AP) — Serbian lawmakers on Saturday approved a long-awaited law that aims to shed light on the fate of hundreds of children whose parents fear might have been stolen from birth clinics throughout the Balkan country.

The bill passed on a 136-0 vote in the 250-member assembly. Two lawmakers abstained. The high number of absent lawmakers was unrelated to the bill, but an ongoing boycott of Parliament sessions by opposition parties and other reasons.

The law resulted from a 2013 European Court of Human Rights ruling which obliged Serbia to create a mechanism for providing answers to parents seeking information about their children.

The chilling scandal first erupted years ago when parents went public with suspicions their babies hadn’t been stillborn or died at birth as they were told but had been kidnapped as part of an organised criminal scheme.

Most of the parents were unable to obtain proper medical documentation about their children’s deaths or trace where the newborns were buried. Some families were told documents were destroyed in floods or fires.

The new law envisions court proceedings to determine what happened to the children or offers compensation of up to EUR10,000 (USD11,000) if the facts cannot be established.

Independent experts initially criticised the proposed bill, saying it served as a way to give parents payouts rather than to establish the truth. The government made last-minute additions that included forming a special commission with the parents’ representatives and a guarantee that cases could be reopened if new evidence surfaces.

Officials have warned that establishing facts could be hard as most cases date back to the era of the former Yugoslav federation, which dissolved in a series of wars in the 1990s and became seven new nations. They said the parents’ suspicions likely resulted from a combination of possible criminal action and state negligence.

A protester holds up a banner that reads, ‘Where are our Children,’ during a protest in front of the parliament building in Belgrade, Serbia. PHOTO: AP