At the fourth Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration, held December 2017 in Mauritania, August 10 was declared Africa CRVS Day. This was endorsed by the African Union Executive Committee, and is being commemorated for the first time across the continent today, August 10, 2018, under the theme, “Promoting innovative, universal civil registration and vital statistics systems for good governance and better lives.” It marks a strong commitment to and recognition of the importance of investing in universal CRVS systems to close the continent’s invisibility gap and ensure that all Africans have the critical identity documents that guarantee protection; can facilitate social access; and ensure they fulfil their rights and obligations as citizens.
Civil registration – the continuous, permanent, compulsory, and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events (live births, deaths, fetal deaths, marriages, and divorces) and other civil status events – is critical for protecting basic human rights and promoting social inclusion. It empowers individuals with proof of age, identity and family relationships. Identity documents, in turn, ensure that individuals can access basic public services such as health and education, exercise economic and political rights such as opening a bank account and voting, claim inheritance, spousal or partner pension rights or insurance benefits.
Further, strong CRVS systems facilitate good governance. They generate critical data important for public policy planning, including service delivery, service provision as well as injury, disease and death prevention. Countries with strong CRVS systems tend to have better population health outcomes. CRVS systems are also critical to monitoring progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDG) agenda – the data required to monitor 12 of 17 SDGs and 67 indicators depends on strong CRVS systems.
While strong progress has been made in strengthening CRVS systems across Africa in recent years, major gaps remain to be addressed. Of the 1 billion people worldwide unable to prove their legal identity, 81% live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and a total of 95 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have never had their births recorded. There are at least 10 sub-Saharan African countries where there is no legal obligation to register a marriage, and another 7 countries where marriage before the age of 18 is legal, meaning there are no legal safeguards for children forced into marriage before the age of 18. Further, only about five countries in sub-Saharan Africa register at least 85% of deaths (South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion and Saint Helena). In the absence of death registration, the dead are, by default, still alive in the eyes of the law, artificially inflating a country’s population and affecting governance.
Consequently, hundreds of millions of African children, men and women are invisible in the eyes of the law and of governments, with far-reaching implications. At the individual level, without proof of age or identity, they are unable to fully exercise their rights and are often excluded from economic, social, civil and political participation. At the governance level, without complete civil registration and accurate information on the number of children, adults, men and women a country has, policy makers may not have the continuous and universal information they need to effectively plan service provision and delivery. In other words, progress towards development goals and targets cannot be effectively planned for or measured.
In this context, it is important for the international community to come together and partner with stakeholders on the continent to support ongoing efforts to scale up and strengthen Africa’s CRVS systems. Priority areas for action include, for example:
- Increasing advocacy on the importance of CRVS systems for Africa’s growth and development;
- Supporting country’s commitments to and engagement in regional platforms on strengthening CRVS systems such as the Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration;
- Increasing stakeholder coordination and support in countries to minimize duplication of efforts and maximize resources; and
- Continuing to advocate for and support country-led, country-owned initiatives to scale up and strengthen CRVS systems.
Inclusive, sustainable development demands strong CRVS systems. With continued strong political will, administrative and financial support, and human-centered programming to increase demand, it is possible to make solid gains in improving vital event registration. The Centre of Excellence is proud to partner with and support the UN Economic Commission for Africa, as well as several countries in West Africa, in their efforts to invest in stronger CRVS systems. For the sake of Africa’s invisible – children, men, women, young and old – we all must do better and much more to advance CRVS systems on the continent.
For more information, see the Africa CRVS Day media advisory.