Promoting the right to an identity in South America

Project description

Title: Promoting the right to an identity in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru
Lead executing agency: Organization of American States (OAS)
Overall term: 2015 to 2016


Approximately 1.3 million births every year are not registered in Latin America and the Caribbean. In total, around 6.5 million children aged five and under do not have a birth certificate, and there is a similar number of adults with no identity documents. However, citizens need birth certificates and personal identity cards to be able to participate in modern society.

It is primarily the very poor and marginalised sections of the population that are not officially registered. These include the indigenous population, people of African-American origin, those with a migration background and unmarried women and their children. There are more women who do not have identity papers than men. Another, equally significant problem is that a disproportionately high number of children born to unmarried mothers frequently have no birth certificates. Almost no one belonging to the indigenous Guarani people in Chaco, Paraguay, possesses any identity papers. In Bolivia, official figures estimate that 40 per cent of the rural population is not registered. The remote border areas in Amazonia and Chaco present a particular challenge, as they are very sparsely populated and only have a weak state presence. These countries have a history of neglecting civil registration, and there are very few permanent offices for registering personal data.


In the border regions of Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru, the number of people from marginalised sections of the population who have been registered has risen.


The relevant authorities are receiving support in conducting information campaigns in the border regions as well as in issuing identity documents and birth certificates where they are needed. They are learning how to conduct campaigns and roadshows that have a broad impact while remaining cost-effective. Officials responsible for the births, deaths and marriages register and the civil registration authorities are learning how to carry out registration campaigns cost-effectively in remote areas. The methods for doing this were tested in an initial pilot project.

The follow-on project is now focusing exclusively on rural border regions. It is designed to raise the awareness of those living in these remote regions of the need to register their children. The campaigns are being planned and coordinated transnationally. In addition, a method for allowing two civil registration authorities to exchange and compare biometric and personal data has been developed. It should now be possible to detect and resolve any double registrations, and prevent them from happening in the future. The cooperation between the civil registration authorities and officials responsible for the births, deaths and marriages register should see the proportion of people without any identity papers decreasing in the medium term.

Those living in border regions, predominantly young children, are to be issued with valid identity documents. This will provide them with better access to social programmes, health care and education, as well as enable them to participate more fully in their local communities.

As civil registration authorities can now exchange biometric data with neighbouring countries, double identities can be detected and prevented in the future. This will close loopholes for drug dealers and other criminals.