|With one in six children in Latin America unregistered at birth, leaders from the region have come together to address the issue of the right to identity.|
By Thomas Nybo
ASUNCION, Paraguay, 29 August 2007 – Throughout Latin America, one in six children does not legally exist because he or she was not registered at birth. That means almost 2 million of the approximately 11 million annual births in the region are not registered.
How do you help the millions of children whose legal identity is not recognized because there is no record of their birth?
Governments, the UN and civil society organizations from across the Latin American region are meeting here in Asunción for three days to answer that difficult question.
The 1st Latin American Regional Conference on Birth Registration and the Right to Identity has been organized by the Government of Paraguay, UNICEF, the Organization of American States and Plan International. The delegates, from 18 countries, include high-level political and government authorities, technical experts and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
|© Plan Internacional/Luis Vera|
|UNICEF Regional Director Nils Kastberg (far right) joins government representatives and partners at the 1st Latin American Regional Conference on Birth Registration and the Right to Identity.|
The importance of registration
At the conference, Paraguay’s Minister of Justice and Employment, Dr. Derlis Cespedes Aguilera, explained the importance of birth registration.
“What are the implications for the children not being registered?” he asked. “Not being registered puts the children in a very vulnerable situation. And it keeps them from getting protection from the state.
“When children are not registered,” he continued, “they are denied the identity of a nation and their rights. Not having an identity, the child is exposed to many forms of abuse and exploitation. Guaranteeing their identity allows them to access education, and also to become legal citizens with full rights to public office, education and their financial well-being.”
|Lack of birth registration deprives children of access to basic services such as health and education, and makes them vulnerable to exploitation.|
Protecting vulnerable children
One of the key challenges is to register indigenous children while protecting and respecting their culture. For example, in some areas, indigenous cultures don’t believe in officially documenting a child until the child’s first word is spoken.
“An indigenous child doesn’t need to only obtain an identity – they need their identity linked with their parents, their language and their culture,” said Rosa Maria Ortiz of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The conference now under way is designed to achieve consensus and form the basis of regional and national plans that will guarantee free, universal and timely birth registration for all children by 2015. The event also aims to sensitize public opinion to the importance of birth registration as a means of ensuring child rights.
While a birth certificate alone is not a guarantee of well-being, registration helps identify and legally protect marginalized and vulnerable children.