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OAS Moves Forward in Universalization of Birth Registration in the Americas

  November 2, 2012

The Organization of American States (OAS) reviewed, in a special session of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs (CAJP) of the Permanent Council, the hemispheric organization’s progress to meet the goal of universal registration of births in the region in 2015.

According to a previous diagnosis, currently about 10 percent of children in Latin America and the Caribbean are not registered, equivalent to more than 6 million children. The objective of the OAS is to register them all by 2015. the Universal Civil Identity Program in the Americas is truly one of the jewels of the OAS, it executes a plan that changes the lives of people," said Kevin Casas-Zamora, the Secretary of Political Affairs of the hemispheric organization.

“When a person is registered, we're changing his life. In other words, when the OAS records the birth of babies in hospitals, we are building democracy, because we are giving them the opportunity to exercise their political rights when they grow up," said Secretary Casas-Zamora.

For his part, Steven Griner, PUICA Coordinator, introduced the Progress Report of the General Secretariat on Eliminating Under-Registration by 2015", which details the work done in 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Griner explained that from 2010 to the present, the OAS has worked on five strategic areas: hospital registry; awareness campaigns; reconstruction of lost or destroyed documents; improving the connection between different registry offices ("interoperability") and the security of databases; and regional horizontal cooperation.

Griner also presented the work plan for the next two years, which has as one of its objectives the strengthening of systems of hospital registry, particularly in Central America and Paraguay; increasing the automation and "inter-operability" in Caribbean countries; the launching of registration campaigns in border areas in Central and South America; supporting initiatives that facilitate access to documentation of refugees and those living in post-conflict areas; supporting the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Civil Registration, Identity and Vital Statistics (CLARCIEV ) as the forum that enhances the value of the registry institutions, and obtaining quantitative information on the undocumented, especially in the case of adults, in order to create public policies that focus on this issue.

Mia Harbitz, an expert of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on policies to reduce under-registration, highlighted the association of the OAS and the IDB in different countries of the region to achieve universal birth registration, and recalled that "the right to identity is one the most basic of all human rights." "There is a correlation between the level of birth registration and the level of human development index, which is an indicator that describes education, well being, health" and other gauges, Harbitz added.

Buti Kale, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), focused his speech on the lack of birth registration and identification documents in conflict situations. "The right to identity is the right of every individual to exist legally," he said, noting that people who are not registered "do not exist in the eyes of the law."

To illustrate the importance of identification, the UNHCR representative cited the case of the current President of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouatarra, "who was denied the right to identity in his country in 2000, which consequently banned him from running for the presidency." Kale told that after several years, Ouatarra was able to obtain his birth record, which allowed him to get permission to stand for election and to become the current President of his country.

The meeting of the CAJP included the special participation of authorities from the civil registration and identification institutions of Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, who traveled to Washington, DC, specifically to relate the experiences of their countries on the issue and their work with the PUICA. Delegates from Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica were also scheduled to speak, but their travel was made impossible due to the arrival of Hurricane Sandy to the east coast of the United States.

The General Coordinator for Promotion of Civil Registry in the Secretariat for Human Rights of the Presidency of Brazil, Beatriz Merguiso, explained that in her country there has been, since 2007, a "national commitment" with different campaigns to register births. As a result, "a decade ago there were a million births per year that were not registered, while today the figure is 167,000." The Brazilian representative added that the regions where there is greater difficulty in recording births are the northeast, metropolitan areas and border areas. She also noted that "there is a cultural problem, because to register, parents must go to the hospital with their identification documents, and often they do not bring them."

The National Civil Registrar of Colombia, Carlos Ariel Sanchez, said that in Colombia three identity records are issued: the first at 7 years old, the second when the person is an adolescent, between 14 and 17 years, and the third beginning at the age of adulthood, 18. "Since 2000, a Unique Personal Identification Number has been issued that the person keeps from the moment of their birth," Sanchez said, adding that this measure has allowed authorities to do away with identity fraud and better organize the national registration system. The Colombian expert estimated that currently "four percent of children under five years in Colombia are not registered," but acknowledged that "in some areas of the country, further away from urban centers, the average reaches from eight to ten percent.”

The National Director of Civil Registration of the Dominican Republic, Dolores Hernandez, said that in 2004 half a million Dominicans had no birth certificate and since then the majority have been registered, especially after the introduction of technological advances in registration. "In terms of the projects we are working on, by 2013 we will have a biometric identity card," said Hernandez.

The Chair of the CAJP and Permanent Representative of Colombia to the OAS, Ambassador Andrés González Díaz, highlighted the work of PUICA despite the fact that "our challenge is still great." "There is a huge challenge, a great crusade to achieve the registration of six and a half million children, whose future depends in large part upon meeting this challenge,” said Colombian Ambassador.

Ambassador González, who recalled that the special session of the CAJP was held in compliance with a mandate of the General Assembly of the OAS in order to analyze the progress of PUICA, said that "Latin America and the Caribbean is the region of the world with the highest rate of inequality and inequity, and it is precisely in this region that we must make all out war against poverty. Indeed, one of the deadly tricks to escape that poverty is to find mechanisms of access, modern and efficient, in terms of identity," he concluded.

The PUICA was born from a mandate from the OAS General Assembly in 2008, which instructed the OAS General Secretariat to support Member States in their efforts to achieve universality and accessibility of civil registration, and meet the goal of universal birth registration by 2015. The PUICA directs its activities to meet five objectives: universality and accessibility of civil registration and the right to identity, strengthening of public institutions' policies and legislation of the countries, citizen participation and awareness, identification of best practices, and promotion of international and regional cooperation.

A gallery of photos of the event will be available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-398/12