BY LIZ CROSS
Imagine walking eight hours to register your child’s birth. You arrive at the government centre and it’s crowded with people. They are all waiting to do the same as you – there’s only one registration centre to serve 200,000 people. The queue is long. You hear stories of how the internet connection often goes down, bringing everything to a halt for hours.
Finally, you are called to the desk. The officer takes a quick look at your papers. He rejects them and then calls forward the person behind you. You leave without understanding the reason why. You’ve wasted a day of wages.
This is a common story for parents going to register their child’s birth in Guatemala, particularly if you are poor or part of the indigenous population – which makes up over 40 per cent of people here. They are repeatedly marginalised against and lag behind the non-indigenous population in terms of social, educational and economic opportunities – 79.2 per cent of indigenous people live under the poverty line. This is 1.7 times higher than among the non-indigenous population.
Registering your child’s birth is vital in ensuring they have a good future. Without it they do not have basic rights, cannot access healthcare, have their education formally recognised or one day get an official job. They are invisible to the state as in their eyes they simply don’t exist.
Getting your child registered is not always easy. First off, with over 20 languages spoken in Guatemala, you might not understand Spanish or have it as your first language. Or you might not be able to read the registration forms– only 79 per cent of over 15s are literate, according to the World Bank. That’s the second lowest literacy rate in the Western Hemisphere.
It’s not just these issues which make it difficult; to be successful you have to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s of the registration process.
For a start, parents and grandparents need to be registered themselves and still have a copy of their own papers to allow their child to be.
You also need your child’s birth certificate. Approximately 80 per cent of births in rural areas of Guatemala happen in the home, and the midwife must then take the birth certificate to the nearest health centre to be certified. Midwives in rural areas are often illiterate and sign their name using their thumbprint and then their ID number and name is written underneath. If the midwife is not registered with the government, or if one letter is incorrect or an accent is missing, the birth certificate is invalid.
The whole process can also be expensive. Parents have to pay a registration fee and could also be fined for not registering their child within two months of birth. Viva Guatemala has found that the whole process can cost anything between 140 and 4,000 Guatemalan Quetzales (between £15 and £430).
Considering all this, perhaps it’s not surprising that there are over 600,000 children in Guatemala without birth registration.
Thankfully, our partner network, Viva Guatemala, has been working alongside RENAP, the government’s National Registry of Persons, for the last four years in order to promote the importance of birth registration and to help parents smoothly navigate the process. They have now directly helped over 2,900 children to receive birth registration.
The team members act as advocates and advisers, providing all kinds of assistance to families. This includes looking through application forms to spot reasons why they have been rejected or assisting parents in obtaining the paperwork they need – for some this includes trips to the Department of Forensics to legally confirm the parentage of children through dental records and blood tests. They help pay registration fees when parents can’t afford it and have a professional lawyer as part of their team to tackle the most complicated cases.
And it doesn’t stop there. In addition to all this, Viva Guatemala is constantly promoting the importance of birth registration to the public. They encourage community leaders and pastors to host information events where Viva Guatemala come and promote birth registration. At these events, they provide parents with necessary information about the process and tell them a date where members of the team will be at the nearest registration centre to give further assistance.
Every few months, the team also host training sessions for midwives, where they teach them how to correctly fill in birth certificates and give information about the birth registration process to pass on to new parents.
Viva Guatemala’s work helping children to get birth registration is just one example of how our partner networks don’t stop until they have got the best for children. In all our 37 partner networks, we are working tirelessly to ensure children are safe, well and able to fulfil their God-given potential.
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