By Paivi Kovalainen.- I am a girl. I have a name and I have a nationality. I am a citizen of this world. I am me. Did you know that this might not be the reality for all of us? There are about 7 billion people on earth, yet one in three children under five is not registered. This makes a whole bunch of us that do not exist in any registers or databases. Do they cease to exist or is it that they never really existed? Think about being a kid and going to the playground and introducing yourself to your new friends as “The Little One” or “Boy” because that is how your family has always called you. You have never heard your real name. Or maybe this is the only name you have. Actually you have never celebrated your birthday either; no cake, no singing “Happy Birthday” and definitely no blowing candles. You do not really know how old you are.
In Nicaragua UNICEF works in cooperation with The Central Registry Office, the local authorities and civil society to register children and adolescents. Nationally about 19% of the children under 5 are not registered – this number is down from 35% in 2005. Yet there is a significant variation between rural and urban populations as well as between regions. For instance, in the Northern Autonomous Region of the Atlantic Coast (RAAN) and in the northern parts of Jinotega department the proportion of unregistered children can be as high as 35%. In preparation of our activities for this year, we visited Rosita – a small municipality of about 20,000 people in the centre of the Northern Autonomous Region of the Atlantic Coast made up by a mix of indigenous communities of Miskitos and Mayagnas as well as Mestizos. In the dusty town centre you see people riding horses wearing cowboy hats. This is a part of the Mining Triangle of Nicaragua. We are in the “wild west”.
Here in the Civil Registry Office of the Mayor’s Office works Mrs. Nubia Rodríguez, the registrar. In this small office space without a window the walls are covered with shelves full of binders, folders and piles of paper. Mrs. Nubia has one assistant (who happens to be off when we visit). She is accompanied by Mr. Juan Carlos Valdéz, a community volunteer who has been supporting the work of the registry office for many years now. They tell us about their work and the situation of birth registration in the municipality. The office is open every weekday from 8 am to 5 pm. They work without computers, without a copy machine and even without a phone! Mrs. Nubia is typing with her age-old typing machine when we enter. This is how people get their certificates were it for registering a birth, a marriage (as in the case of the young man who is in the office at the time), a divorce or a death. These statistics mean life and death – literally.
However, not every mother and father come to register their kids when they are born. There are many reasons, mostly economic. Travelling from a remote community to the town centre is costly. Often the people come by foot. This means leaving your daily tasks, your children and your home without a guard for the whole day, maybe even more. What is more, how do you go and register your child if you are not registered either? You do not own an ID showing it is really you. And you might not have any legal document stating that the baby really is yours. In this case you need to bring two witnesses, which costs even more in travelling expenses, food and lodging. And if you have not gone through the process of registry yourself and here you are and…well…exist then why should you really bother registering your baby? (S)he is there, right?
In what seems a disorganised pile of documents to me has clearly a system of organisation to Mrs. Nubia as she quickly finds a document for a man who comes to ask for it. UNICEF is supporting people like Mrs. Nubia and Mr. Juan Carlos to do their job. Together with other local authorities and the Central Registry Office teams of registrars will visit communities using mobile registry units. Local CSOs, leaders, community volunteers and members of media will help in disseminating information to the public about the importance of birth registration. These are just some of the strategies used to secure the Nicaraguan children their right to existence.
So let’s work together to celebrate more birthdays shall we!