The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Organization of American States (OAS) to help ensure free, timely, universal birth registration for children in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2015. Joined by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, newly inaugurated to a second term, the leaders of the three organizations gathered in Bogota this week to support the initiative, which aims to grant an official identity to millions of the region’s unregistered children who remain largely invisible in their own countries. “This partnership seeks to end the economic, political and social exclusion of undocumented citizens,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “When children are not registered, they are not counted and included in statistics. Without reliable statistics, we cannot have reliable programmes and services for the children who need them most.” The alliance will strengthen IDB’s and UNICEF’s ongoing efforts to eliminate barriers that impede registration in Latin America and the Caribbean through measures such as improving the collection and dissemination of data relating to birth registration, supporting the modernization of civil registry systems, and linking birth registration with other social services. Although the region exceeds world averages in birth registration, there are considerable disparities both among and within countries. For example, while Cuba (99 per cent) and Chile (95 per cent) can boast nearly universal registration, Haiti (70 per cent) and the Dominican Republic (75 per cent) are still a long way from achieving that goal. In the region, it is estimated that more than one in six children who are born every year go unregistered, UNICEF said, for an overall estimated total of close to 2 million of the 11 million annual births. Citizens who lack identity documents have difficulty obtaining employment, accessing credit, opening a savings account and inheriting property, according to the agency. Voting and being elected to office may also be restricted. For children, lack of registration can sentence them to a life of exclusion and invisibility by creating a barrier to access health, education and social services, while placing them at greater risk of abuse and exploitation.