Rights for the Unregistered in Argentina

Although the exact number is unknown, officials estimate that more than 300 thousand people in Argentina are unregistered. These people now lack basic rights simply because their births went unreported.

Since the government does not recognize their existence, Argentina’s unregistered are unable to obtain identification cards. Without IDs, access to health care is severely limited, education is all but unattainable and legal employment is impossible.

Lacking IDs, the unregistered also have no inheritance rights. They are prohibited from voting and claiming retirement or social benefits. Additionally, the unregistered cannot report a crime, even when they are the victim, travel outside the country, or rent housing.

Despite governmental efforts to simplify registration paperwork, many impoverished parents still fail to register their children’s births. Officials believe that lack of awareness is a prevailing problem when it comes to birth registration. Many people do not know that they are allowed to register newborns for free at main hospitals.

Jorge Álvarez, director of The Open Institute for Development and Study of Public Policies, explains that a large number of those who do not register their children do not understand the advantages of access to identification affords.

“This is why we say this is not a red-tape issue,” Álvarez stated, “but one of poverty and entrenched cultural deprivation.”

Even those who overcome a lack of information still face challenges. In order for an unregistered individual’s existence to be recognized by the government after the age of 12, that individual must file a legal petition for late registration. The process, without proper assistance, can stretch over years and require hundreds of dollars in legal fees.

Fortunately, Microjusticia Argentina, an NGO dedicated to providing legal representation and assistance to marginalized people, is working to assist the unregistered and provide impoverished people with access to identity rights.

Although the NGO’s volunteer members provide free legal assistance, the organization strongly emphasizes the importance of endowing clients with the tools to meet registration requirements through their own work.

“We listen first, and then advise. We seek [to support] personal empowerment, so we give them the tools to deal with paperwork by themselves whenever possible,” stated Alejandra Martínez, general coordinator of Microjusticia Argentina.

Microjusticia Argentina serves communities in Buenos Aires, Lanús Oeste, Florencio Varela, Olmos and Ezeiza, Mariló, Manzanares and Lomas Zamora. The Buenos Aires slums, or villas miserias, are a particular focus with 16 mobile Microjusticia Argentina outlets serving the impoverished residents.

The “invisible ones”, as the NGO’s members often refer to slum occupants, face other challenges stemming from their impoverished condition. Along with a lack of information concerning identity rights, Argentina’s poor are also deprived of access to such necessities as proper sanitation services and clean water.

With a legacy of poverty and hardship hanging over their heads, these people desperately need welfare and the means to educate themselves and gain employment, rather than having all their rights lost due to no access to IDs. Unfortunately, there exists rift between marginalized families and the authority figures that dole out the advantages identification affords.

“They [impoverished people] feel they are not entitled to rights and that public services are not meant for them either,” stated Martinez.

Therein lies the vitality of organizations like Microjusticia Argentina that seek not only to alleviate the lack of identity rights facing the impoverished communities they serve, but to incorporate marginalized people into the fight for their own rights and give them a sense of agency in the process.

Since 2010, Microjusticia has resolved 700 legal cases in Argentina. The organization also has sister branches in Bolivia, Peru, Croatia, Serbia, Kenya and Uganda, with Microjustice programs in the United States, the Philippines and Spain in the works.

Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: Microjusticia Argentina, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian