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Latin American region unites for millions of “invisible” children


Governments, the UN and civil society organizations from across the Latin American region are meeting to address the alarming problem of children whose legal identity is not recognized due to the lack of birth registration.

Throughout the region, one in six children do not legally exist because they were not registered at birth and have no formal or official identity. That means a staggering two million of the 11 million births in Latin America are not registered. Without a birth certificate millions of children are excluded from basic services such as health and education and face daily exploitation and risk.

“Marcos Alexandro, is ten years old, lives in the State of Chiapas in Mexico, and was accepted into school at ten years of age after registering in the registry. In Paraguay, it is estimated that only 35 percent of boys and girls are registered during the first year of their life, for the remainder they simply don’t exist as citizens,” says Nils Kastberg, Director of the Regional Office of UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean. “When we do not register our boys and girls, we deny them the basics like going to school, to hospital, getting a passport or being part of a family, and we are not protecting them against serious crimes such as child trafficking.”

The meeting marks the first time the issue has been addressed region-wide, and is being held under the slogan “Write me down, make me visible.” The three day event 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 looks to sensitize public opinion to the importance of birth registration as a means of access to children’s rights. While a birth certificate alone is not a guarantee, registration helps identify and legally protect marginalized and vulnerable children.

The 1st Latin American Regional Conference on Birth Registration and the Right to Identity has been organized in conjunction with the Government of Paraguay, by three of the Region’s main international agencies, UNICEF, Organization of American States, and the leading children’s non-governmental organization, Plan International. Delegates from the 18 countries represented include, high level political and government authorities, technical experts responsible for the civil resisters, and civil society organizations.

“We are extremely pleased that the region’s governments have shown true commitment to the issue by attending this event – it has taken a long time to organize, but this enthusiastic response makes it worthwhile. This is a vitally important issue and it’s a great first step to guaranteeing the rights of every child in Latin America,” said Pia Stavas-Meier, Plan’s Regional Director for the Americas. “Every day millions of children are denied access to the basic rights and opportunities many of us take for granted. It is only with all of us working together that those rights and opportunities will be recognised.”

Birth registration is not only essential for the safety and development of the children; it is also essential for the development of the countries. Children who have full and legal access to health and education services grow up into fully participating citizens. At the national level, registration provides governments with specific information on their populations and lets them make better use of increasingly limited resources – ensuring State funds go further and to where they are most needed.

Since 2005, these three organizations have been uniting in efforts and coordinating different actions to support governments and civil society to ensure that “Register me, make me visible“ becomes a global reality, and ” to ensure the right to an identity as a fundamental element for citizenship,” stresses Marie Claire Acosta, Program Director of Universalisation of the Civil Identity in the Americas of the O.A.S. "Citizenship implies the exercising of rights and constitutes one of the pillars of democratic governability.”

A series of conclusions and recommendations are an expected outcome of the conference. The conference will be replicated for the Caribbean Region next year.


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