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A number for life
Florencia Aylen López Martínez, newborn, got a special birthday gift from her government—the number 5.724.084-3—which will belong to her for the rest of her life.

Florencia arrived in this world on April 21, 2008, at Pereira Rossell Hospital in Montevideo, where 17 percent of Uruguayan babies are born. These are the children of Uruguay’s poorest families. The names of Florencias’s parents and her mother’s identification card number were sent electronically from the hospital’s server to the National Civil Identification Directorate, which assigned an identity number to the baby and sent that number and Florencia’s information to the National Civil Registry, where the rights associated with a person’s identity are established through the registration of one parent.     

This is a new process to streamline citizen identification and registration using electronic systems to connect three entities, belonging to three different ministries, as part of a pilot project initiated by the Uruguayan government in October 2007. The pilot project aims to modernize the citizen identification and registration processes, as well as to generate basic demographic statistics on the country’s citizens.

Cristina Tello, project coordinator at the Office of Planning and Budget in the Presidency of the Republic of Uruguay, noted that government can take much better care of its citizens when such a process is integrated. “It’s [Having an integrated system is] not just to decrease the number of undocumented children; it also facilitates resource allocation for social programs aimed at young children, starts the government’s relationship with its citizens from birth, and facilitates the paperwork of citizenship,” said Tello. “All of this goes along with the goal of serving citizens better, including granting people their rights and social inclusion.”

"When people don't have identification documents, they can't received social services from the government, such as education or state-sponsored healthcare, nor can they vote when election time comes," Tello said.

Institutional integration challenges

While the pilot program has been successful in Montevideo, the Uruguayan government faces a challenge in implementing the project on a larger scale, nation-wide. The project is receiving support from the IDB, whose Board of Directors recently approved a $2.4 million grant to integrate the identification registries of various public institutions and provide basic data to the Institute of Statistics, where it can be resolved into vital statistics, and the Social Services Bank (Banco de Provisión Social), which administers social programs.

The project, headed by the Office of Planning and Budget in the Presidency of the Republic of Uruguay, will be part of the government’s intranet site that aims to establish interactive capacity between hospitals and maternity wards (Ministry of Public Health) and the National Civil Identification Directorate (Ministry of the Interior), as well as with the General Directorate of the Civil Status Registry (Ministry of Education and Culture).

According to Tello, the core of the project is the electronic transfer of birth and death certificates, both of which contain the unique identification number assigned by the National Civil Identification Directorate, using the new inter-institutional connectivity.

Rubén Amato, general manager of the National Civil Identification Directorate (DNIC, according to its Spanish acronym), indicated that electronic transmission is going to allow 100 percent of the country’s citizens to receive identification documents in real time. “This is going to benefit many poor citizens who live in rural areas and who had to travel to our offices to get identification documents,” Amato said. The project also helps close the technology gap between the office in Montevideo and the offices in other parts of the country.

For his part, the general manager of the General Directorate of the Civil Status Registry, Roberto Calvo, adds that for his organization, this project has meant “entering the  21st century and leaving the 20th century behind,” since all the civil registry processes had been done manually, just as they were in 1879 when Uruguay’s civil registry was first created. The project will also initiate the digitalization process for documentation issued in previous years, Calvo said.  

A partnership with the IDB

In developing this project, the IDB coordinated a series of meetings between Uruguay and Peru in order to transfer the knowledge gained from the successful experience of the National Identification and Civil Status Registry of Peru, known by its Spanish acronym, RENIEC. That autonomous organization is charged with maintaining civil and electoral documentation, including birth, marriage, divorce and death certificates.

Mia Harbitz, IDB project team leader, said that the visit of the Uruguayan delegation to RENIEC’s headquarters in Lima helped the two countries establish an agreement to collaborate in order to pass on lessons learned.

“The visit allowed us to see first-hand, the successful experience that we aim to have in our registry,” said the general manager of Uruguay’s civil registry, adding that a Uruguayan delegation consisting of two engineers and a civil status registry inspector will travel to Lima on May 5th to deepen the knowledge gained from the first visit to Peru.

The development project also received support from the Italian Fund for Technology and Communication, with the goal of sharing the Italian experience of registry integration.