Archives
2011

Regístrame, Hazme Visible—Write Me Down, Make Me Visible

December 02, 2011
Author: Amber Henry

LIVING IN A HARSH REALITY

You live in a small Guatemalan community named El Gorrión, which was created in the wake of a hurricane. The nearest water source is thirty minutes up the mountain, and electricity is intermittent. You have five children—a sixteen year-old son, two daughters ages twelve and seven, and newborn twins. The men, including your eldest son, must hike two hours up the mountain to work, earning enough money per week for one small meal a day. The women cook what food there is and spend time keeping the house clean. Your babies live off breast milk and sugar water. This diet will continue until they are five or six. None of your children attend school, because the government will not admit a child into school without a birth registration. With barely enough money to have one meal a day, sacrificing a month’s salary five times over for government-sanctioned validity is out of the question. Each day you live in the harsh reality of poverty, swallowing the fact that the government refuses to recognize your five children as individuals. They are denied education, health care, and other rights within the society, and are only recognized as legitimate people within the four walls of your home. Your children, however, are not alone.1

The realities of this life have left millions of children in Latin America pleading for one simple thing: Regístrame, hazme visible—Write me down, make me visible. With the purpose of beginning a revolution, this catch phrase was created in 2007, a time when fourteen percent of Latin American children were unregistered. They fell into an “invisible” category, effectively excluded from essential services including hospitals and schools. Children lack the protection of family and community, and are often at risk of exploitation and abuse.2  In August 2007, the first Latin American Regional Conference on the Right to an Identity and Universal Birth Registration was held. Action plans were written, projects were established, and a movement began.3  Four years later, this movement has disappeared. With the exception of one update, stating that eighteen percent of Latin American children are unregistered, the only available documented resources are from August 2007.4

THE PROBLEM OF INVISIBILITY

The concept paper of the 2007 conference states, “Recognition of the right to an identity implies the incorporation of the child as an individual . . . and the complete set of civil, political, economic social and cultural right . . . .”5  Birth registration is a legal process that grants recognition of a child as an existing human being (in the eyes of the government). However, in Latin America the process is convoluted and often inaccessible, therefore leaving millions of children unrecognized by the government. This lack of recognition leads to a devastating lifestyle for each child, including lack of education, health care, and any related rights a legally registered individual possesses. All across Latin America, children are denied entrance into school—public or private—simply because they are invisible to the system. A thirteen year-old Venezuelan attests: “I’ve seen what happens to other kids in my neighborhood who don’t go to school.  They spend their days sniffling glue, begging for money and getting into trouble.  I feel sorry for them.”6  Without access to education and other social rights, children are left susceptible to the detrimental hands of “employers” or even traffickers.7

THE IMPACT OF POVERTY AND INATTENTION

Henri Nouwen claims in his 2001 article, “Poverty creates marginal people, people who are separated from the whole network of ideas, services, facilities and opportunities that support human beings in time of crisis.  The poor are left to their own minimal resources.”8  Unfortunately, the governments of Latin America are not worried about the issue of invisibility.

Furthermore, there are many other problems in these third-world nations, yet the governments do not take the time to try to uncover problems below the surface.9  In addition to the complacent role, the international community has seemingly stopped paying attention to the invisible children of Latin America. The issue has faded in the minds of most organizations and communities, even those that, in recent years, had put together clear, attainable plans and goals. The inattention is baffling and the problem is self-perpetuating.

ACTION AMID GROWING INACTION AND IGNORANCE

According to UNICEF, the registration of children is “essential for development of the countries.” The plans produced at the 2007 conference established the goal “to guarantee free, universal and timely birth registration for all children [of Latin America].” Since the conference, however, the number of unregistered children has increased from fourteen percent to eighteen percent, and costs of registration remains high.10

The inaction of the governments, the people, and the organizations coordinating the effort has left the invisible children to fend for themselves. Unless a government recognizes each child as an individual, however, this is an unachievable task. It is imperative that governments take action amid this growing complacency. As world citizens we have an obligation to address the problems of invisibility. As individuals with legal training we have resources which may be tapped for the betterment of a life, a family, and a community.

First, we must strive to eradicate ignorance. With no current resources addressing the issue of invisibility, it is far too easy to treat the problem as non-existent. One in five children of Latin America is legally, socially, and culturally invisible. If a member of our own family, in our own country, were similarly situated, we would not sit back and do nothing.

Second, we must demand action to be taken on an international level. We must ask ourselves why the United States and other countries have not already acted on the problem of invisible children. If our nation is to promote good and thwart evil, inaction and ignorance must be forsaken.

Third, we must reach out to the organizations that were once acting against the problem of invisibility. The lack of support from individuals, governments, and international powers has only aggravated the problem. One person, one organization, or one nation cannot resolve a problem this large¬—it must be an international effort.  The answer is clear, and should have been acted upon years ago. With the ever-increasing epidemic of invisibility, these precious children must not be ignored by the international community any longer.



NOTES

1 Amber Henry taught and worked in the Guatemalan community of El Gorrión, Spring 2007.
2 UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2006 (2006), available at http://www.unicef.org.
3 Email from Isabel Benlloch, TACRO Communication, UNICEF, to author (Aug. 29 2007) (on file with author); See also Concept Paper from 2007 Latin American Summit (Aug. 28, 2007) (on file with author); See also Project Plans from 2007 Latin American Summit (Aug. 28, 2007) (on file with author); See also Conclusions and Recommendations from 2007 Latin American Summit (Aug. 30, 2007) (on file with author).
4 Moviemiento ALAS, Spread the Word (June 2011), available at http://www.alasthemovement.org.
5 See supra note 3.
6 Excluded and Invisible Children: Reaching the Most Vulnerable; What Young People Are Saying, UNICEF, http://www.unicef.org/voy/e-newsletter (last visited August 30, 2007).
7 Lack of birth certificates deny millions of Latin American children services, United Nations News Center, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=23630&Cr=Latin (last visited Sept. 2, 2011).
8 Henri J.M. Nouwen, ¡Gracias! A Latin American Journal (3d ed. 2001).
9 Plan International, Estudio de Situación y Bases de un Programa Regional de Apoyo al Registro de Nacimiento (2006); See also Jéssica Osorio, Guatemaltecos sin identidad están en la mira del Renap, Prensa Libre, Feb. 18, 2008.
10 Latin American region unites for millions of ‘invisible’ children, UNICEF News Note, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/media_40731.html (last visited Sept. 2, 2011).