Azeris Left in Legal Limbo

People abandoned as children struggle with bureaucracy to get official documents.

Azeris Left in Legal Limbo

People abandoned as children struggle with bureaucracy to get official documents.

Radik, who turned 18 this summer, has a secret fear: he might not be called Radik at all, and he might not even be 18.

He is one of a dozen or so Azeris who were found abandoned as children and who, because of the inertia of the state bureaucracy, still have no documents to prove who they are.

Without documents, he cannot go to university, get a legal job or rent a flat, let alone a driving licence or a passport.

“Formally I don’t exist, since I have absolutely no documents. It’s interesting, if I die, what will be written on my grave? Just the name that was given to me in the orphanage? Will I even have a grave?” Radik asked.

Radik lives rough, having left the state orphanage after 16 years of care. He has read his file, and knows he was found on the street when his age was estimated at two. An anonymous employee of the orphanage named him Radik and registered his birthday as July 12, the day he arrived there.

According to the education ministry, 51 children in Azerbaijan were in the same position as Radik since the problem was identified three years ago, although more than half of them have since managed to obtain documentation. If an abandoned child has relatives, documents can be obtained. But if officials cannot locate any relatives, the infant is left in legal limbo.

“There is no special state structure to create documents for these children. The heads of the children’s homes have to do it themselves. And they do not have the resources on their own to resolve the issues of documentation. That is why these problems exist,” said Makahat Hajiyeva, an employee of the ministry’s pre-school department.

“We appealed to the justice ministry and the ombudsman’s office about this. It turned out that it is a very difficult and lengthy procedure. You need to collect a lot of documents. There is not a specific person, or a specific structure looking after these children, so we as a ministry took the decision to deal with the problem.”

The bureaucratic problems were so complex, she said, that the ministry did not have enough staff to manage them, and had brought in some non-governmental organisations, NGOs, to help.

“Believe me, it is a very difficult procedure. The majority of children receive documents by a court decision, and these court processes can continue endlessly. If it turns out that a child has living parents, even if since his birth they have not looked after him, then you have to find them. A decision cannot be taken without their involvement. And if the child was born outside a hospital, you need to find witnesses to his birth. Sometimes this can take years.”

One of the NGOs brought in by the ministry is The Clinic of Children’s Rights. According to Nazira Guliyeva, the head of the organisation, investigations showed that 11 of the 51 children had at one time had documents.

“Some of them had been destroyed, some were kept somewhere. And the child had not even known that there were documents confirming his identity,” she said. Of the other 40 children, 22 have managed to gain documents thanks to the NGO’s work.

Lawyers involved in the process say the paperwork can be infuriatingly illogical.

“A child born in Azerbaijan is automatically a citizen of the country. If a child somehow ends up in a state children’s home, the local police station and the citizens’ registration service must give this child documents. I think that if a child cannot get documents, this is the fault of the people responsible,” said Alesker Mamedli, a lawyer.

“People without documents can never have any document confirmed by a lawyer. They cannot get a driving licence; they cannot have a permanent address, because everyone will ask for their documents. This is a serious violation of their rights and someone has to bear responsibility for it.”

Radik, meanwhile, was delighted to hear that some children in his position had managed to receive documents.

“As soon as I get documents I will get a job. And then I can rent a flat. After all, how long can you sleep in courtyards and entrances?”

Ayten Farkhadova is a journalist from the Express newspaper.
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