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Introduction

The purpose of this report is to provide a brief introduction to the civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems in Afghanistan. The information is based on findings from a desk review of publicly available documents, including information published on the Internet by Afghan authorities, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP). Among other things, the report presents:

  • Background information on the country;
  • Selected indicators relevant for CRVS improvement processes;
  • Stakeholders’ activities; and
  • Resources available to strengthen CRVS systems.

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Afghanistan

Disclaimer: The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.

Country profile

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a landlocked country in South and Central Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south; Iran to the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and China to the northeast.

Afghanistan is made up of 34 provinces, with each province encompassing a number of districts of usually over 1,000 villages.

652,230

TOTAL SURFACE AREA (SQUARE KILOMETERS)

37,172,3861

POPULATION (MILLIONS)

2.42

ANNUAL RATE OF POPULATION CHANGE

75%3

POPULATION LIVING IN RURAL AREAS
Capital City
Kabul
Official working language(s)
Dari and Pashto
Ministry responsible for civil registration
Ministry responsible for civil registration
National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA)
Civil registration agency
General Directorate of Civil Registration (NSIA)
National statistical office
National Statistics and Information Authority

CRVS Dimensions

Birth

Completeness of birth registration

46%

(

20184

)
Children under 5 whose births were registered

42%

(

20155

)
Births attended by skilled health professionals

51%

(

20156

)
Women aged 15-49 who received antenatal care from a skilled provider

60.5%

(

20107

)
DPT1 immunization coverage among 1-year-olds

73%

(

20188

)
Crude birth rate (per 1,000 population)

32

(

20199

)
Total fertility rate (live births per woman)

4.5

(

201810

)
Adolescent fertility rate (per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years)

65

(

201711

)
Population under age 15

46%

(

201212

)

Death

Completeness of death registration

10%

(

201813

)
Crude death rate (per 1,000 population)

6

(

201814

)
Infant mortality rate (probability of dying by age 1 per 1,000 live births)

48

(

201815

)
Under five mortality rate (probability of dying by age 5 per 1,000 live births)

62.3

(

201816

)
Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births)

638

(

201717

)

Marriages and divorces

Marriage registration rate

Not available

Women aged 20-24 first married or in union before age 15

28%

(

201718

)
Women aged 20-24 first married or in union before age 18

Not available

(N/A)
Divorce registration rate

Not available

Vital statistics including causes of death data

Compilation and dissemination of CR-based statistics

Not available

(N/A)
Medically certified causes of death data

Not available

(N/A)

Civil registration system

Legislative Framework

The legal system in Afghanistan consists of four primary legal frameworks: statutory law, local customary law, Shariah law, and international law, though there is overlap in certain aspects, with conflicting provisions. Civil registration and identification procedures in Afghanistan are governed by statutory and international law. Registration of vital events has been practiced inconsistently in Afghanistan since 1878.

After the end of the Taliban regime (in 2001), the government started to revitalize the system for registration of vital events: births, marriages, divorces, and deaths. In addition, the government also registers the internal movement of the population. The Afghan Civil Code (1977) mandates the registration of an individual’s personal details and the recording of vital life events (births, marriages, deaths, and divorces) and issuance of personal identification documents by the government (Article 47). The 2014 Registration of Population Records Act states citizens’ obligation to register civil status changes (such as marriage). Key legislation that governs civil registration vital statistics and identity management are:

  • Afghan Civil Code 1977, which governs the registration and documentation of births, marriages, dissolutions of marriage, and deaths;
  • Registration of Population Records Act 2014; and
  • Passport Law 2015.

Management, organization and operations

Until 2018, civil registration in Afghanistan was the responsibility of the Afghanistan Central Civil Registration Authority, which operated as a semiautonomous agency under the Ministry of Interior Affairs. At the end of 2018, based on a decree by the President, the Afghanistan Central Civil Registration Authority merged with the National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA), which currently functions as a General Directorate of Civil Registration (GDCR) under NSIA.

The GDCR system has a centralized structure, providing almost all registration services in its network of offices branded as offices of registration of population records, located across provinces, districts, municipal districts, border points, and airports. The only exception is the registration of births, which is decentralized to include health centres; these serve as birth registration assistant registrars. The collaboration between the health sector and the civil registration authority is set to increase, shifting the responsibility of birth registration to health facilities, while the GDCR gathers the birth certificates to build databases at the different administrative levels.19

NSIA is responsible for the calculation of indicators, compilation of collected information, statistical analysis, report writing, and the dissemination of results. The Ministry of Public Health is responsible for the collection of birth and death registration data through health facilities.

National CRVS systems coordination mechanisms

The national coordination mechanism was established in 2006, with input from representatives of:

  • National Statistics and Information Authority, General Directorate of Civil Registration;
  • Ministry of Public Health;
  • Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs;
  • World Health Organization;
  • UNICEF;
  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA);
  • Ministry of Public Health; and
  • Representatives of civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations.
Administrative level registration centres

Other than at the GDCR main office, registration services are provided at GDCR local offices (branded as offices of registration of population records) in 364 of 410 districts. Several provinces still have districts that do not provide civil registration services, mainly due to security concerns linked with the Taliban insurgency.20  Registration services are further provided in political or consular missions of Afghanistan abroad and ad hoc established mobile teams for registration in remote areas.

Accessibility of civil registration services

Access to registration services is uneven across the country. Afghanistan’s infrastructure is underdeveloped, and many centres lack direct road connections. Roads may be blocked by snow for long periods in winter. The security situation also makes it difficult to provide consistent services.

Registration of vital events

Births registration should take place within three months after a child’s birth. There are currently two procedures for the registration of births and subsequent issuance of birth certificates in Afghanistan, depending on whether the birth took place at home or in a health centre. The Registration of Population Records Act 2014 delegates birth registration services to public health institutions. The Ministry of Public Health is responsible for registering births occurring in medical facilities, including issuing birth certificates. For births occurring at home, the GDCR can authorize village heads and religious leaders to perform birth registrar duties at the village level and issue registration certificates.

Birth registration procedures are designed to accommodate Afghanistan culture and traditions. Traditionally, families choose a name for the newborn child in a ceremony attended by relatives and close friends of the parents. This means the child born at a health facility may not have a name to be stated on the birth registration form, and therefore a birth certificate cannot be issued immediately. The health facility either keeps the document until the family chooses a name and returns to complete the registration process, or it hands over the registration form with the name field blank. After the naming ceremony, the newborn’s family completes the registration process and certification by taking the form to the local GDCR office for final sign-off.

Registration of home births is further covered through the Expanded Programme on Immunization, which has fixed centres that have agreed to act as assistant registrars. In cases where these fixed centres and maternity wards exist in the same facility, the fixed centre must not register births that occur in the maternity ward. Finally, the GDCR officially appoints religious leaders in mosques as assistant registrars to register births occurring at home.

For marriage registration, the 1977 Afghan Civil Code requires that every marriage must be registered, and a registration certificate issued. However, in practice this requirement is not systematically enforced, and few marriages are registered. The legal age to marry for women is 16 years of age, while men can marry from the age of 18 years.

With regards to death registration, the Registration of Population Records Act mandates the Ministry of Public Health to establish a mechanism to register deaths in hospitals, clinics, and private clinics, and report these to the Registration of Population Department. Registration of deaths in health facilities does not require additional witnesses to confirm the death, unlike in cases where the death occurred at home. For deaths that did not occur at a health facility, the family, relatives, and executor of the deceased’s will have a duty to notify the GDCR within 30 days of the death, which then completes the registration. If a person dies while abroad, his or her family and relatives should notify the nearest Afghan embassy or consulate office, which registers and reports the death to the GDCR in Afghanistan. 

Backlog of unregistered births

No information available.

Interface with other sectors and operations

The tazkera is normally required to gain access to some public services such as the educational system, to acquire and own property, and to obtain different permits. It is also a supporting document for the issuance of other documents from the authorities, such as a passport. Similarly, the tazkera is often necessary for registering information on various matters with the public authorities, such as the registration of a marriage. It is also needed for employment with the public service. Since a tazkera can be issued irrespective of age, this document is used as the main identification document when applying for services delivered to children.

Vital statistics system

The Vital Statistics and Demographic Department of the National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA) is responsible for the calculation of indicators, compilation of collected information, statistical analysis, report writing, and the dissemination of results. Provincial registration offices submit monthly vital statistics reports (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and migrations) to the NSIA.

Afghanistan authorities have insufficient resources to produce and publish vital statistics based on civil registration data due to low registration completeness rates and underdeveloped civil registration infrastructure that cannot process data digitally.

Causes of death

With death registration remaining generally low, cause-of-death data, when recorded, is often not determined accurately. Both private and public doctors can certify the cause of death. Deaths occurring outside a hospital can be certified by the community leader or a non-professional registrar and are not necessary for burial or the claiming of pension or inheritance. Verbal autopsy is not widely used. The International Classification of Diseases started being used when recording causes of death in 2018, on a still-limited scale.21

Digitization

Computerization

Civil registration is mainly paper based. Registration forms — an original and two copies — are available at the local registration centres and are filled in by the registrars. When the form is completed, the registrar issues the birth certificate to the parents. The registrar files one copy at the registration centre and sends the second copy to the relevant district in a monthly batch.

The civil registries are currently undergoing digitization. A web-based interface is capable of registering both births and deaths, but it is available only at the central and provincial levels so far. It enables the transfer of birth and death information from the registration form directly into the central civil register database at the NSIA main office. Where such a web platform is not available, a second copy of the birth certificate is transferred in monthly batches to the GDCR provincial office. This office then transfers all copies collected at the provincial level to the main NSIA office, where these forms are then digitized, and data is entered into the central civil register database.

Online registration services at health facilities

Health facilities play an important role in birth and death registration, but for the time being, this process is strictly paper based.

Mobile technology application

Mobile technologies are not used for civil registration processes.

Unique identification number

Legislation does not allow for assigning and using a unique identification number for processing and linking personal legal identity data.

Population register

The civil registration database operates as a standalone system.

Digitization of historical civil registration records

Apart from ongoing registrations in offices with access to a dedicated registration web platform, plans to digitize Afghanistan’s historical paper records have not yet been drawn up. Until fully digitized, historical paper records are kept at GDCR local district offices.

Link with identification system

The tazkera (national ID card) is the most important ID document for Afghan citizens and serves as confirmation that a person is an Afghan citizen. There is no minimum age for acquiring a tazkera, and the document can be issued to newborn children.

During the initial application for a tazkera, verification of identity is the most thorough step. Applicants must have a birth certificate, but most people do not have one. Even without a birth certificate, applications for tazkera are accepted. If the applicant does not have a birth certificate, the tazkera of a male family member on the father’s side (father, brother, uncle, or male cousin) should be presented.

NSIA began issuing an electronic national ID card (e-Tazkera) in 2018. The electronic system for issuing national identity cards is not currently linked with the central birth records database. GDCR is currently developing plans for linking the birth registration database to the national ID and passport databases, through the code number on an individual’s birth certificate. Through this code, the national ID and passport databases will automatically retrieve an individual’s basic personal data from the birth registration database, and the national ID and passport offices complete only the additional information required for the national ID and passport. This system is in the planning stage, and only represents a vision of how the system will operate in the future. To achieve this vision, major work is yet to be done to transition the CRVS system from a manual and paper-based system to a digitized one. Until this is completed, the link exists only in that the birth certificate, where available, is used as evidence of identity when issuing the tazkera.22

Improvement initiatives and external support

Improvement plan and budget

Strategic plan

The Afghanistan Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Country Strategic Plan 2016–2020 was commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Kabul in response to a request from the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior Affairs’ civil registration office and Ministry of Public Health. The strategic plan sets three goals, aligned with the UN ESCAP’s Regional Action Framework on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific:23

  • Goal 1: Achieve universal civil registration of births, deaths, and other vital events;
  • Goal 2: Provide all individuals with legal documentation of civil registration of births, deaths, and other vital events, as necessary, to claim identity, civil status, and ensuing rights; and
  • Goal 3: Produce and disseminate accurate, complete, and timely vital statistics (including on causes of death) based on registration records.

A monitoring and evaluation framework was included with a list of indicators and targets, for each goal, to reach by 2018 and 2020. For example, the target for birth registration is that by 2018, 50 percent of estimated births that occurred within the year were registered, with that percentage rising to 75 percent by 2020. Regarding the registration of deaths, by 2018, 10 percent of estimated deaths that year were expected to be registered, with that number expected to reach 20 percent by 2020.

Budgetary allocations and requirements

The NISA’s civil registration and identity management work is funded by the government and supported financially by development organizations. The Afghanistan Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Country Strategic Plan 2016–2020 defines the financial need for each key strategic area of action:

  • Political commitment;
  • Public engagement, participation, and generation of demand;
  • Coordination;
  • Policies, legislation, and implementation of regulations;
  • Infrastructure and resources;
  • Operational procedures, practices, and innovations; and
  • Production, dissemination, and use of vital statistics.

When determining financial needs, short-term, medium-term, and (in some cases) long-term actions were considered. The total cost of implementation was estimated at US$21,337,500.24

Activities identified as high priorities

The issuance of the tazkera national identity cards is high on the government’s priorities. In 2018, the issuance of electronic tazkera began, after it had been repeatedly postponed over heated political debate on personal information to be featured on the document. Registration of vital events will be gaining importance in the next steps, leveraging the opportunities which arise from linking the electronic civil registration database and national ID card database. These services will increasingly be implemented in an integrated fashion in the field, mirroring the institutional integration of these services under the auspices of the NSIA.

Support from development partners

The development partners that provided support to the civil registration and vital statistics systems improvement initiative in Afghanistan are listed in Table 1.

Table 1

Additional Materials

Websites

Additional materials

Afghanistan Legal Education Project [translation]. 2014. Civil Code of the Republic of Afghanistan. cdn.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Civil-Code-of-Afghanistan-ALEP-Translation.pdf

Hall, S. and Norwegian Refugee Council. 2016. Access to Tazkera and other civil documentation in Afghanistan. nrc.no/globalassets/pdf/reports/af_civil-documentation-study_081116.pdf

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Law on Registration of Population Records. Unofficial translation. refworld.org/pdfid/544a4c434.pdf

Norwegian Country of Origin Information Centre (Landinfo). 2019. Afghanistan: Tazkera, passports and other ID documents. landinfo.no/wpcontent/uploads/2019/08/Afghanistan-Tazkerapassports-and-other-ID-documents-22052019-final.pdf

UNICEF ROSA. 2019. Status of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in South Asia Countries. Registration of births, deaths and marriages. unicef.org/rosa/reports/status-civil-registration-and-vitalstatistics-south-asia-countries

UNICEF ROSA. 2019. Civil registration in South Asia: Coordination, connections and collaboration. unicef.org/rosa/media/3521/file/CIVIL%20REGISTRATION%20IN%20SOUTH%20ASIA:%20COORDINATION,%20CONNECTIONS%20AND%20COLLABORATION.pdf

World Health Organization (WHO). 2015. Afghanistan Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Country Strategic Plan 2016 to 2020. getinthepicture.org/sites/default/files/resources/AFG%20CRVS%20Final%20-%20English.pdf

Conclusion

While faced with numerous challenges, extensive consultations in Afghanistan resulted in a clear vision as to how the national CRVS system should operate in the future. Efforts are being made to ensure that national priorities are aligned with regional priorities in terms of advancing CRVS systems in Asia. Afghanistan is one of the vicechairs of the Regional Steering Group for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific, and is the co-chair of the network of Civil Registrars of South Asia (CR8) — both with UN ESCAP.

Afghanistan has completed legislative and institutional reforms, resulting in the integration of civil registration, vital statistics, and identity management under the authority of a single government agency. The Afghanistan Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Country Strategic Plan 2016–2020 defined key policies that will guide modernization and improvement of civil registration services that could be linked to the recent increase in birth registration completeness. The government is aiming to expand the coverage of registration services by delegating registration duties to health facilities and community and religious leaders. Nevertheless, these polices are yet to be proven in practice as birth registration completeness is below levels that could be deemed satisfactory. As in many other countries, death and marriage registration rates are much lower than birth registration rates. As registration authorities work to improve the services, the country’s hard terrain and lack of communication infrastructure, coupled with the volatile security situation, continue to pose challenges. Further digitization of registration services and the planned integration of civil registration and identity card electronic databases will likely improve the efficiency of the registration process.

Endnotes

  • 1World Bank. 2019. Population, total – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=AF
  • 2World Bank. 2019. Population growth (annual %) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.GROW?locations=AF
  • 3World Bank. 2018. Urban population (% of total population) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS?locations=AF
  • 4UN ESCAP. 2020. Report on progress towards the achievement of the goals of the Asia and Pacific Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Decade (2015–2024). ESCAP/CST/2020/L.1. unescap.org/sites/default/files/ESCAP.CST_.2020.INF_.3_Progress_of_CRVS_Decade.pdf
  • 5Central Statistics Organization – Afghanistan et al. 2017. Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey 2015. Kabul, Afghanistan. dhsprogram.com/publications/publication-FR323-DHS-Final-Reports.cfm
  • 6World Bank. 2015. Births attended by skilled health staff (% of total) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.BRTC.ZS?locations=AF
  • 7World Health Organization (WHO). 2010. Global Health Observatory country views. Afghanistan statistics summary (2002–present). apps.who.int/gho/data/node.country.country-AFG?lang=en
  • 8UNICEF. 2018. Cross-sector Indicators: Percentage of surviving infants who received the first dose of DTP-containing vaccine. UNICEF Data: Monitoring the situation of children and women. data.unicef.org/resources/data_explorer/unicef_f/?ag=UNICEF&df=GLOBAL_DATAFLOW&ver=1.0&dq=.IM_DTP1..&startPeriod=2015&endPeriod=2020
  • 9World Bank. 2018. Birth rate, crude (per 1,000 people) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.CBRT.IN?locations=AF
  • 10World Bank. 2019. Fertility rate, total (births per woman) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.TFRT.IN?locations=AF
  • 11World Bank. 2018. Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.ADO.TFRT?locations=AF
  • 12UN DESA Population Division. 2012. Country population by age. unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/indwm/Dec.%202012/1b.xls
  • 13UN ESCAP. 2020. Report on progress towards the achievement of the goals of the Asia and Pacific Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Decade (2015–2024). ESCAP/CST/2020/L.1.unescap.org/sites/default/files/ESCAP.CST_.2020.INF_.3_Progress_of_CRVS_Decade.pdf
  • 14World Bank. 2019. Death rate, crude (per 1,000 people) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.CDRT.IN?locations=AF
  • 15World Bank. 2018. Mortality rate, infant (per 1,000 live births) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.IMRT.IN?locations=AF
  • 16UNICEF. 2015. Key demographic indicators. Afghanistan. UNICEF Data: Monitoring the situation of children and women. data.unicef.org/country/afg/
  • 17World Bank. 2019. Maternal mortality ratio (modeled estimate, per 100,000 live births) – Afghanistan. data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.MMRT?locations=AF
  • 18UNICEF. 2017. Key demographic indicators. Afghanistan. UNICEF Data: Monitoring the situation of children and women. data.unicef.org/country/afg/
  • 19UNICEF ROSA. 2019. Status of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in South Asia Countries 2018. Registration of births, deaths and marriages. unicef.org/rosa/reports/status-civil-registration-and-vital-statisticssouth-asia-countries
  • 20Ibid.
  • 21UN ESCAP. 2020. Afghanistan CRVS Decade (2015–2024) Midterm Questionnaire. getinthepicture.org/resource/afghanistan-crvs-decade-2015-2024-midterm-questionnaire
  • 22Library of Congress. 2018. Afghanistan: Distribution of Controversial Electronic Identity Cards Launched. loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/afghanistan-distribution-of-controversial-electronic-identity-cardslaunched/
  • 23UN ESCAP. 2014. Regional Action Framework on CRVS in Asia and the Pacific. getinthepicture.org/resource/regional-action-framework-civil-registration-and-vital-statistics-asia-and-pacific
  • 24UNICEF ROSA. 2019. Status of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in South Asia countries 2018. Registration of births, deaths and marriages. unicef.org/rosa/reports/status-civil-registration-and-vital-statisticssouth-asia-countries