Birth Registration: The Key to Social Inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean
• Birth registration is a fundamental human right and constitutes legal proof of a child’s existence and nationality. Without adequate documentation to verify identity, a person can become ex- cluded from the benefits of living in society and can be condemned to social exclusion. • In the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region, 9 percent of children from zero to four years of age do not have a birth certificate. • Not having a birth certificate is associated with lower educational attainment and a lower level of immunization in all LAC countries included in this study (Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Peru). Both outcomes highlight the importance of birth registration as a fundamental public policy goal. • There are numerous factors that might explain the under-registration of births. In general, children from very poor or rural households with mothers whose own level of education is low are more likely to lack a birth certificate. Children born in hospitals and health centers have better chances of being registered than those children born at home without medical assistance. In some countries, such as Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, long distances between households and civil registry offices can also be an impediment to registration. In the Dominican Republic, children of foreign and/or undocumented parents also face lower chances of being registered, which suggests an inter-generational transmission of the lack of a legal identity. • In order to promote birth registration, action must be taken on various fronts, both to improve the registration services provided by governments and to stimulate interest and demand by citizens. Some specific actions that arise from this analysis include: • Work on countries’ institutions to eliminate the barriers and costs associated with birth registration and to promote campaigns that show its benefits. • Ensure that schools are equipped to identify the problems of under-registration and to help families to overcome them. • Carry out registration campaigns in hospitals, during vaccination campaigns, and as part of social programs targeting vulnerable families. • Seek to improve the geographic distribution of civil registry offices to facilitate access and reduce the distance between households and providers of registration services. • In countries with large migratory flows, catalyze inter-country dialogue to regulate the registration of children of undocumented parents. Many countries in the LAC region are making progress on these issues, but there is still a long way to go before this fundamental human right can be guaranteed for the population as a whole.