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Conference to Strengthen Birth Registration Systems


by Joti Kohli



VoC attended the UNICEF/UNHCR conference on birth registration in May which focused on International, Regional and Domestic efforts being made in birth registration with a focus on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS).  The information below is what was gained from the 2 day conference and provides only a glimpse into some highlights of the conference.[i]

Civil Registration is the official recording of all births, deaths, marriages, etc. and vital statistics refers to vital events such as consensus gathering, causes of death, etc.  CRVS is important since first and foremost it provides legal identity which is the basic human right of every individual.  It is also key to good governance and development since it provides information crucial to policy-making and measuring social and economic progress.

Globally there are 230 million children unregistered out of which half live in Asia with 70 million being in India[ii].  Most countries are facing numerous challenges in the efficient implementation of CRVS some of which are due to:

  1. inadequate or weak legal frameworks
  2. inadequate financial and human resources
  3. little inter-agency coordination
  4. lack of training of personnel
  5. limited public awareness of the importance of CRVS

Considerable effort is being made by UN agencies, international organizations, multilateral development banks and regional bodies to strengthen CRVS.  It is impossible to share everything from the conference so here are a few highlights of efforts in progress and best practices.

UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is working on an agreement by the countries in the region to prioritize improvement of their CRVS systems. The Ministerial Endorsement of this agreement is to be achieved at a conference in November which will finalize a regional action framework that will have specific targets from 2015-2024.  The three main goals, each of which has clear and specific targets from 2015-2024, are to accomplish:

  1. universal CRVS
  2. legal documentation for all individuals and
  3. timely, accurate and complete vital statistics (including causes of death).

These goals are in line with the benchmarks presented by UNHCR. UNHCR has already announced its mandate to eradicate statelessness by 2024.  Addressing the needs of the refugees UNHCR has organised a series of high level workshops and meetings to address the issue of legal documentation in the Asia Pacific region.  In December 2012 jointly with ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), UNHCR organised a workshop to look at regional good practices in birth registration. Subsequently, further research and consultations with the UNHCR Executive Committee, led to UNHCR’s presentation of draft benchmarks and indicators to AICHR in November 2013 and to the regional CRVS Steering Group.  The Draft benchmarks are as follows.

  1. A comprehensive assessment of the birth registration system has been undertaken and a national multi-sectoral improvement plan adopted.
  2. Access to birth registration is available for all without discrimination.
  3. Ensuring timely birth registration and facilitating late birth registration.
  4. Free birth registration and no penalty for late registration.
  5. Accurate recording, high quality of documentation issued, security of data and related measures to ensure effectiveness of registration.

Further work is planned to realize these initiatives the first one being the regional Civil Registrars meeting happening in July 2014. This meeting has been organised by UNHCR, UNICEF, UNESCAP, Plan International and WHO.

Two projects in Latin America by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are impressive examples of best practices. Around 2001 IDB completed a study on poverty reduction, inequality, social inclusion and improving the quality of statistics. What this study found was that a major segment of the population did not officially exist since they had no legal documentation, resulting in the social, political and economic exclusion of this segment of the population.  As a result IDB included CRVS, in particular universal birth registration and legal documentation, as a condition for their grant recipients and projects were measured by how many births were registered.

Despite facing many challenges in both projects, like disorganized ICT, outdated legal framework and weak policy, after many years of work the achievements are remarkable.  The two success cases are Uruguay and Peru.

In Uruguay IDB managed to establish an interconnected registry process enabling vital documents like birth certificates and ID cards to be obtained in less than a day. You can see the video about the project here.

The project for which IDB received the 2013 prize for Best Practices in Public Sector Management was in the Huancavelica region in Peru.  Huancavelica is one of the poorest regions in Peru, 4000 meters above sea level and about 12-15 hours away from Lima.  In this region a massive campaign was initiated with the training of 257 registrars, 540 outreach and sensitivity campaigns and the creation of local networks for obtaining legal documentation and the registration of births.

In the eighties and nineties due to internal conflict many documents were destroyed in this region and so various measures for the recovery and replacement of these documents were initiated resulting in the digital incorporation of 219,285 records. The intense campaign and outreach effort offered free legal advice and free registration via house visits and extended opening hours of services with native language speakers always at hand.  The entire process was also made easier and it took only 3 minutes to get a birth registered as opposed to the previous 24 hours.  Registering for an ID card took 5-10 minutes with a 3-6 weeks delivery period.  More about the project can be found on this video.

Finally, a baseline study on legal identity done in Indonesia is worthy of attention.  The study was done by the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice and PUSKAPA UI (the Centre on Child Protection at the University of Indonesia), PEKKA (Empowerment of Female Heads of Household NGO) and the Family Court of Australia funded by the Australian aid program. The study is available online here


[i] The information here has been taken from presentations by Mia Harbitz (IDB), Tanja Sejersen (ESCAP), Nicholas Oakeshott (UNHCR)

[ii] You can find more information on the global research here UNHCR video

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