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Alliance aims for universal birth registration in Latin America and Caribbean

© UNICEF Colombia/2006
Danny Tobón Sánchez (right) with his mother and siblings. For years, Danny has lived without his birth registration, preventing him from going to school and receiving health care.

By Marisol Quintero

BOGOTA, Colombia, 8 August 2006 – Birth registration provides crucial protection to children, proving their identity and nationality and protecting them from exploitation and abuse – including child labour, trafficking and early marriage.

To guarantee the right of every child to free and timely birth registration, UNICEF, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States (OAS) have launched a new partnership that could help achieve universal registration in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2015.

“This partnership seeks to end the economic, political and social exclusion of undocumented citizens,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman at a press conference today in Bogotá, where the alliance was formally announced.

“When children are not registered, they are not counted and included in statistics. Without reliable statistics, we cannot have reliable programmes and services for the children who need them most,” noted Ms. Veneman.

© UNICEF Colombia/2006
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman speaking at a press conference in Bogotá, Colombia.

Access to education and health

The story of one young Colombian boy, Danny Tobón Sánchez, provides a case in point.

Violence in his hometown forced Danny, then nine years old, to flee along with his parents and six brothers. The family left in a hurry – and without Danny’s birth registration. They later settled in Bogotá, and that missing piece of paper has marred his life ever since.

“Without a birth certificate you are nobody, you are anonymous, you don’t appear anywhere,” said Danny, now 16, summarizing all the difficulties that he and his family have endured.

“The biggest problem I encountered was with my son’s education,” added his mother, Orfenia Sánchez. “I went to many schools, and all of them closed their doors on me because I was missing the boy’s registration card.” Danny started school just a few moths ago, when he finally received a birth certificate.

But with no school to attend for six years, Danny was bored and sad. Besides being unable to continue his education, he did not have access to free health care. “It is really hard for me to see a son of mine in this situation for days, months and even years,” said Ms. Sánchez.

© UNICEF Colombia/2006
A baby is given birth registration. Out of the 11 million babies that are born every year in the Latin America and the Caribbean, at least 2 millions will never be registered.

2 million unregistered every year

Danny’s case is not unique. According to government statistics, around 150,000 children go unregistered each year in Colombia. The situation is not getting any better in the rest of the region. Out of the 11 million babies born every year in Latin America and the Caribbean, at least 2 million will never be registered.

Research also shows that registration rates are lowest among poor, rural and indigenous populations.

The alliance announced here today will strengthen efforts by UNICEF, the Inter-American Development Bank, OAS and other partners to eliminate barriers that impede registration. It will focus on regional and sub-regional initiatives to:

  • Improve the collection and dissemination of data relating to birth registration
  • Support the modernization of civil registry systems
  • Link birth registration with other social services, including health care and education.

“Basic identity documents such as birth certificates and national ID cards are critical for engaging in economic and productive activities and exercising citizenship rights,” said Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno.




8 August 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on a joint effort to register all children in Colombia and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.
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