With millions of Latin American children excluded from health and education services because they lack birth certificates and do not therefore legally exist, the United Nations is participating in the first ever region-wide meeting convened to address the problem under the slogan “Write me down, make me visible.”
The three-day meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay, brings together the UN, Governments and civil society organizations from 18 Latin American countries and aims to form the basis for regional and national plans to guarantee free, universal and timely birth registration for all children by 2015. It will be replicated for the Caribbean region next year.
“A staggering two million of the 11 million births in Latin America are not registered,” the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a news release. “Without a birth certificate millions of children are excluded from basic services such as health and education and face daily exploitation and risk.”
UNICEF regional director Nils Kastberg painted the issue in stark terms. “Marcos Alexandro is 10 years old, lives in the State of Chiapas in Mexico, and was accepted into school at 10 years of age after registering in the registry,” he said.
“In Paraguay, it is estimated that only 35 per cent of boys and girls are registered during the first year of their life; for the remainder they simply don't exist as citizens. 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 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, the Organization of American States and the leading children's non-governmental organization, Plan International.
Delegations include high-level political and government authorities, technical experts responsible for the civil registers, and civil society organizations.
Countries represented are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.