Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
November 12, 2009

Date: 11/12/2009 Description: Community members in San Ignacio de Velasco municipality participate in a radio roundtable to provide information about the documentation process.  ©  Photo courtesy of Lutheran World Relief In Bolivia, DRL partners with Lutheran World Relief to strengthen human rights for some of the country’s poorest citizens. The program helps thousands of undocumented indigenous Bolivian citizens to obtain marriage licenses, birth and death certificates, and identification cards. By receiving this documentation, the Bolivians are able to access state education and health services, pass on property to their children, and vote in elections. Through Lutheran World Relief’s network of 16 legal aid offices, the program has assisted a total of 28,997 indigenous persons receive official documentation. For example, the program has helped 4,243 Bolivians receive birth certificates, 554 obtain marriage licenses, and 2,034 receive personal identification cards, as of July, 2009. The program uses innovative approaches to increase awareness and access to documentation, including creative public service radio programming, information booths at local village markets, legal service programs for recent law school graduates, and popular collective wedding ceremonies that are often attended by the local mayor or other officials.

Date: 11/12/2009 Description: After 30 years of marriage and 10 children, a couple in Ravelo, Potosí participates in a collective wedding to receive official government marriage documentation.   © Photo courtesy of Lutheran World Relief Because citizens whose parents lack formal documentation also cannot receive their documentation, it is not uncommon for multiple sets of parents and children to be officially married at the same collective wedding ceremony or to receive their birth certificates at the same time. In the words of one program participant: “I’m 73 years old and have lived with my wife more than 50 years. We have 11 children and never before had a marriage certificate. With this paper, I will die happy knowing my children’s property is secure.”

Without Lutheran World Relief’s assistance, indigenous citizens would otherwise navigate a complex government bureaucracy, travel long distances to state offices, and pay legal fees of several hundred dollars to apply for proper documents. Despite a tense and challenging political climate in Bolivia, Lutheran World Relief’s program has experienced great success, securing partnerships and agreements with local police and court offices that allow documentation applications to be processed more smoothly.