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The Choc Family

Birth Registration • Guatemala • 2022
“The community where we live is so dangerous, even the police never come in. There is so much fear for what happens within the community boundaries that no one comes in to help us, even firemen.” Jimena, grandmother

The Choc family’s journey to birth registration for everyone, started 28 years ago when Arcecio and Jimena Choc’s first child was born. Neither of them was registered – growing up in rural indigenous communities in Guatemala, neither ever really had need of official identity documents.

When they relocated to Guatemala City just before their first child was born, they moved straight into a shanty town dwelling where documents for rent were not needed, as long as your monthly payments kept coming. Coming from a relatively low-income family, their choice of neighbourhood was limited and they were soon settling into life in one of the capital’s most dangerous communities.

When their first child was born, Jimena heard about birth registration and how it was an important part of setting a child up for the rest of their lives. Wanting the best for her child, she headed to the local government registration office.

“I went one day with my baby to get him registered but as soon as I arrived, I knew it was going to be impossible. I couldn’t and still can’t read. I could see all the letters, but I had no idea what they were saying and so I didn’t know what I had to do. There was no one to help me, so I just went home, and my child was not registered.” Jimena, grandmother

Registration aside, Arcecio and Jimena made a life for themselves in Guatemala City and went on to have another 10 children, the youngest of whom is now just 1 and a half years old. However, as their oldest began to grow up, and particularly as they got to school-age, it became clear that not being registered was going to present challenges for them, as Jimena explains.

“My children not being registered made everything more complicated. They couldn’t go to school and they couldn’t easily access healthcare. Thankfully, we were blessed by a wonderful headteacher at the school in our community who allowed our children to sit in on classes, despite not having their ID documents. But not all of them really loved school so some of them only used to go occasionally. My oldest daughter, Damaris, only went until Year 4 and then she wanted to leave.

For their healthcare, I knew it was important to get their vaccines. Most recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, getting them the vaccinations for that was a challenge. Again, thankfully, we had a wonderful neighbour who kept us informed about what we needed to do to get the vaccine for all of us – and she even looked after all our vaccine cards for us as we’ve moved house a few times recently and I didn’t want them to get lost. It’s all been tricky though."

Damaris, 24, is Arcecio and Jimena’s second child and oldest daughter. She struggled with accessing her rights when she was little as a result of not having her birth certificate. Although she was lucky to be invited to school by the headteacher despite having no official documents, she never really got into the swing of learning and left school after completing Year 4 of primary.

As she grew up, she worked instead and eventually met her husband, Victor, 26. In 2020, just before the pandemic hit Guatemala, she became pregnant with their first child. For years, Damaris had not even thought about her birth certificate and the implications of not having official paperwork. The work she had done until then had always been informal and never required any identity verification, but when she was in hospital after giving birth to her son, now 2, she realised how challenging life could be without it.

“Damaris, my wife, was pregnant in 2020,” explains Victor. “And we didn’t even think about not being registered because it had never impacted us before. Even when the baby was born, he was well and healthy so we didn’t think anything of it. The issue came when we tried to get Damaris and my son out of the hospital after the birth. They wouldn’t let her out because they hadn’t seen an ID document from her so there was no official proof she was his mother.

It was my first baby you know, I was excited to meet him and spend time as a family. But they wouldn’t me in the hospital because they didn’t know who Damaris was. To make it worse, this was all happening during the pandemic, so there were no cards on the road, no access anywhere, you know?

They were asking me if I was the father of the baby and I said I was and showed them my birth certificate. Then they were asking for her documents, but we didn’t have them which created just this huge mountain of problems. I tried to take something that her parents had which showed her name, but because it wasn’t the official identity document, they wouldn’t let me in to see her or the baby… They just didn’t believe I was the father…

To be honest with you, I did get a bit angry, as anyone would, because I just wanted to get them out of hospital. I was there with Damaris’ parents too, but we just couldn’t do anything.

Eventually, the director of the hospital called the government’s Children’s Services department and spoke to them about it – eventually, they let her out of hospital, despite still having a bit of a fever after giving birth. We had to go and see them in their offices but again, only Damaris could go in with my son. I was waiting outside with my in-laws which was so annoying. But I calmed down and ultimately, I felt happy because we were getting it sorted. We waited there that whole day, but it still took over a year to get it sorted. And that was only after we got in touch with CONACMI who have supported us through everything.”

“With our second child, it was easier because I’d been through the process before and knew what documents were needed at what point to get the child out of hospital and then to start the registration process. I didn’t know everything first time around, and I didn’t have my own registration documents then.” Damaris, mother

"Even for my first baby, he still doesn’t have any of his vaccinations because when I took him to the health centre, it was before I had my ID documents and they wouldn’t allow me to consent to him having anything without proof I was his mother… So now, even at 2 years old, he’s not had any of the normal vaccines that children need to stay well and healthy.

Now though, I’ve got my ID documents and I can take the children anywhere I want. They’ll go to school, they’ll have healthcare and everything else they want in life. Now I know why birth registration is so important – it was only when Children’s Services tried to take my baby away that I realised how serious things can get without proof of who you are.

I’m just grateful that when I was little, the headteacher at the school allowed us to attend classes, even though my dad explained we had no papers. I managed to get to Year 4 in primary school, my younger siblings are all planning to graduate full though. I didn’t really like school and didn’t want to study, so I stopped half way through. Despite this though and not having my papers, people have always supported me.

Getting my birth certificate was a challenge because I needed at least 2 official documents to prove who I was, but I didn’t have them. It was hard but I did eventually find them and I’m so glad I did now because I’ve been able to register my own children. My dreams for them are that they will graduate from school and that they will have good jobs and keep rising above. Me not having my papers cost me a lot and I’m so glad they won’t have the problems I had now.

I want the best for the because this is the main wish of any mother. I hope they will never know pain and that they can everything they want one day – to be educated well, to respect older people… I just know I’m going to be so proud of them when they graduate from school and are all grown up.”

A father's hope

Victor also has all sorts of hopes and dreams for his two children as they grow up...

“For me, I hope they’ll study and that they won’t be on the streets like I was when I was younger. I hope my son will stay out of trouble and away from challenges. I’m happy now I’ve got my two children – I love them so much. I’m going to encourage them to stay in school – they really have to make the most of that so that when they have their own families, they can do well. I’m working at the moment, doing a job that I like and I get by little by little but I want them to do something they love as a job and that they’re proud of. I want them to rise above, to have families of their own. I want to improve the story for my whole family and the future we have ahead of us… having birth certificates is the first step in that story.”

“Sometimes we’re unable to do things in life – sometimes we don’t always do good things or the right things. We make errors and, in this case, this error cost us a lot for our children, but you’ve helped us.” Arcecio, grandfather
“Now, my children and grandchildren have the blessing of having… a name… and they have the blessing of having their rights.” Jimena, grandmother

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