At the Women’s Justice Initiative, providing free legal services is a critical aspect of our work. Our Legal Services team, led by Maya-Kaqchikel lawyer Viviana and paralegal Rosa, visit partner communities each month so that the most vulnerable women and girls who often cannot leave their homes, can receive legal support and counseling.
Although our cases generally deal with intimate partner violence (IPV) or economic rights, this month we had the opportunity to help Magdalena and her family gain their legal identity. The 41-year-old mother of six gave birth at home. Giving birth outside of a hospital means families have 60 days by law to register their children with the National Registry (RENAP) or pay a midwife to help them do so. As shocking as it sounds, nearly 50% of indigenous women in Guatemala give birth at home due to administrative and cultural barriers in addition to the distance and expenses incurred by traveling to and delivering in a public hospital.
Unfortunately, Magdalena could not afford the registration costs (approximately $6.85 per child). Without legal identities, none of the six children were enrolled in school, could read or write, or receive medical attention when they were ill. Juan David, the oldest child who works in a factory, was not eligible for the same social security benefits and salary as his co-workers. Mirna, the second oldest, struggled to find decent, dignified work because she is illiterate.
Fortunately, Mirna participated in our Women’s Rights Education Program and was referred to our Legal Services team to begin the legal registration process with WJI’s support. Our Legal Services team helped the family request birth certificates from community midwives and the local health center, identify witnesses required for RENAP registration, accompanied them to RENAP to complete the formal registration process, and covered all costs incurred during the process.
Paralegal Rosa explains, “Legal registration at RENAP is more than an identity card. Rather it’s a vital opportunity to leave the threshold, tackle new challenges, and move forward in life.” WJI secured legal identification for Magdalena and her children over a four month period and now 17 year old Mirna is looking forward to starting adult literacy classes and helping her younger siblings enroll in school.
The right to an identity is fundamental and not having a legal identity impedes one’s ability to exercise his or her basic rights as a citizen. Without a legal identify, an individual cannot marry, study, vote, receive social security and health benefits, participate in government development programs, and obtain formal, dignified work. WJI is proud to help women and their children gain their legal identities so they can assert their rights as Guatemalans. Thank you for joining us in the process!