What if the government doesn’t think you exist?

This is a reality for nearly 20 percent of Nicaraguan children who do not have a birth certificate. Lack of this critical document prevents children from accessing education, and, as they grow, keeps them from employment, legal marriage, voting, travel, and more.

By Marcia Morales, World Vision Nicaragua.
Published June 27, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

Like many young children, Alison Suarez, 7, was estatic when the time finally came for her to start elementary school.

Her joy, however, was short-lived; she was not able to enroll in classes because she did not have a birth certificate

No birth certificate = No proof of existence

It wasn’t until her mother, Aura Lidia, tried to register her for classes that she realized that Alison basically didn’t exist in the eyes of the Nicaraguan government — all because she didn’t have a birth certificate.

Aura learned that without this document, her daughter wouldn’t be able to go to school, get legally married, travel, vote, or even hold a decent job.

A disturbingly common problem

Alison is not alone. According to reports from the United Nations Children’s Fund, 19 percent of Nicaraguan children under 5 (an estimated 10 percent across Latin America) do not have birth certificates.

The birth certificate problem is twofold. First, many parents don’t understand the importance of the document. Second, for many families, it is difficult to find the necessary financial resources to register their child.

Though it is free to register children in Nicaragua during their first year of life, parents must travel to a registration center. After the first year, registration must be completed with the help of a lawyer. On average, that costs $100.

Like many parents who live in poverty in rural Nicaragua, Aura didn’t have the resources to make the 25-mile trek to the nearest city to register her child. 

Closing the gap

World Vision helped Aura register for Alison's birth certificate and assisted her with the legal fees. (Photo: Miriam Diaz/World Vision)World Vision is helping close the gap from both sides. An educational advocacy campaign called “My Name is Important” is underway in all World Vision sponsorship communities in Nicaragua. The campaign educates parents about the importance of birth certificates.

World Vision also coordinates with local partners to bring mobile registration opportunities to communities. “The idea [is] to bring the registration service directly to people, so they do not need to go to the urban areas and spend money,” explains World Vision’s Paola Bonilla.

To date, World Vision has helped register more than 2,000 children in the country.

Access to school for Alison

Because Alison is a sponsored child, Aura asked World Vision for help.

World Vision assisted Aura by defraying the legal fees, and within a month, Alison had her birth certificate and was able to start school.

Today, Alison is one of the top students in her first-grade class. 

How you can help

Pray for children who do not have birth certificates. Pray that they would gain this important documentation so that they can access critical resources like education.

Sponsor a child in Nicaragua. Through sponsorship, you can help change the life of a child, family, and entire community. Child sponsorship provides access to life-saving basics like clean water, nutritious food, healthcare, education, and more.