Citizenship matters

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Roqué Gonzalez* lives in an isolated indigenous community in Argentina without roads, electricity or running water. One of the biggest barriers its people face to overcoming such hardships is identity – they are not recognised as citizens.

Without official documents proving citizenship, indigenous people are unable to vote and are deprived of social benefits and basic services, such as healthcare and education. Cut off by geography, language and illiteracy, the people in Roqué’s community have had scant contact with the authorities and know little about their rights and entitlements.

By raising awareness about why citizenship matters and assisting with the application process, we’re helping them and other indigenous communities in the country to achieve full citizenship and access the government support they’ve long been missing. In the first six months of 2012 alone, more than 100 people were able to obtain identification cards from the Ministry of the Interior.

Gaining citizenship has an immediate impact on a family’s well-being. With the correct documentation, for example, mothers can access the government’s child benefit programme, which helps pay for their children’s schooling and healthcare. We are also calling on the government to officially recognise the community as a whole. Such recognition would see the community qualify for state programmes that support indigenous people, including much-needed investment in infrastructure and public services.

“Being documented means our communities now have access to the same assistance as urban residents,” says Roqué. He is one of a growing number of people who now know that documentation – and more importantly, identity – paves the way for greater accountability and a fairer society.

* Names have been changed

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