Parents slam Serbia bill in chilling 'missing babies' cases

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In this photo taken Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, Mirjana Novokmet speaks during a protest in front of the parliament building in Belgrade, Serbia. After years of waiting, Serbian lawmakers are set to soon pass a bill that authorities say attempts to shed light on a chilling, decades-old scandal involving hundreds of families who suspect their babies were stolen at birth. Mirjana Novokmet does not believe that this special law will help uncover what happened to her first child back in 1978. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE – For years, Mirjana Novokmet has tried to find out what happened to her first child back in 1978.

Novokmet, only 19-years-old at the time, was told at a Belgrade clinic that her baby boy was stillborn. She wasn’t allowed to see him, and she has not been able to determine with certainty why he died or where he is buried.

More than 40 years later, Novokmet is still searching for the truth. For her, the mystery surrounding her baby’s death can mean only one thing.

“I am certain that he is alive,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I believe someone took him or sold him, within or outside the country.”

Novokmet is not alone — hundreds of families in Serbia have voiced similar suspicions after being unable to collect their deceased children's medical records or locate their place of burial.

The chilling scandal made it to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled against Serbia in 2013 demanding that authorities create a mechanism to provide answers to parents in similar situations.

As a result, Serbian lawmakers are set to soon pass the long-awaited bill designed to try to establish the details of the cases in court proceedings or offer compensation when the facts cannot be determined.

Praised by the authorities as the right way forward, the bill has been criticized by the parents’ associations and independent experts who argue that it will serve to pay out the families rather than establish the truth.