ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – The country has made its birth registration process easier after estimates showed about 560,000 of the nation’s 6.5 million residents don’t have any form of identification.
However, the new law also has facilitated the theft of newborns, according to Néstor Stelatto Mojoli, the director of the Civil Registry of Persons, an institution run by the Ministry of Justice and Labor that is responsible for registering births in Paraguay.
The most recent case involved 3-month-old Dana Colmán, who was taken from her house during the early morning hours of Dec. 29 in the city of Villa Hayes, 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from the nation’s capital of Asunción.
Five days later, Paraguay’s National Police found her in the custody of Ana Carolina González Ramos, in Toro Pampa, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) from her home.
González was arrested but claimed to be the baby’s biological mother, presenting a birth certificate issued by the regional office of the Civil Registry in Villa Hayes.
However, a photograph allowed authorities to determine the child’s true parents.
Dana Colmán was registered in the Civil Registry by González under a different name and birthdate, using her rights under Law 3,156/07.
The law states if the father or mother does not have a live birth certificate issued by the Ministry of Health, they can present two witnesses attesting the baby belongs to the one or both members of the couple. Digna Zaracho and Juana Evangelista Moreno were González’s witnesses.
The three women are being held at the Buen Pastor Women’s Prison in Asunción. The prosecutor in Villa Hayes, Gabriel Ramírez Palumbo, has filed charges against González for violating parental rights and attempted kidnapping, and charges of providing false testimony against Moreno and Zaracho.
“There are some unscrupulous people who have taken advantage of this law,” Stelatto said.
Stelatto said the law’s main goal is to reduce the high level of underreporting births, a practice that has declined from 12% in 2008 to 8.6% in February 2013.
“There were people who were against this bill precisely because it would create a law that could be used to facilitate identity fraud,” said Andrea Cid, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) protection officer in Paraguay, referring to Law 3,156/07.
José María Orué, the director of Paraguay’s National Secretariat for Children and Adolescents, said the kidnapping of Dana Colmán exposed the weaknesses of the Civil Registry process.
“Our proposal, which already has been presented to the Ministry of Health, is to allow nurses to become Civil Registry officials so that they can register newborns at the hospital,” said Orué, adding that there’s no official data on the number of babies stolen annually in Paraguay.
Though the law provides a loophole through which stolen babies can be registered using false information, Stelatto insists the law shouldn’t be changed.
“We have to introduce a culture of identity,” he said. “It is not possible to register a child anonymously. People must present their identification when registering a newborn.”
Stelatto said about approximately 156,000 children are born annually in Paraguay but only 60% receive a live birth certificate, which is required for the newborn to be registered with the country’s Civil Registry.
“The remaining 40% don’t receive the birth certificate when they were born because they were delivered by midwives or family members in places that do not have a clinic or a hospital where the Ministry of Health is able to issue the certificate,” Stelatto said.
Stelatto added underreporting could be further reduced if midwives were eligible to receive accreditation from the Ministry of Health to issue live birth certificates.
Orué said the focus should go beyond the modification of Law 3,156 to include new programs to protect children, even before they are born.
“There should be a registry for pregnant women so that when the child is born, it will be monitored and registered automatically,” he said.