Routine data on births, deaths and other vital events are collected by local administrations on a day-to-day basis and form one of the most important sources of population information. German development cooperation supports partner countries in reinforcing their civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems.
Each country should record, document and certify the vital events in the lives of its citizens. Registered at the local level, information on individuals’ life-cycle events such as birth, death and marriage can be consolidated on the higher administrative levels to form the basis of a country’s civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system. These routine data are produced as part of the existing administrative process, and when stored digitally, are available in real time and – compared to censuses and large-scale household surveys – require no additional funding.
CRVS systems benefit both governments and individual citizens
CRVS data benefit governments by providing essential information for planning and policy-making. Vital statistics can give the government insights, e.g. into the population’s health situation and the size of upcoming generations. Policy-makers can use this information for needs-oriented planning and budgeting. CRVS data are a reliable source of information for national identification systems and functional registers such as voter lists, social security systems or pension registers. CRVS systems also enable governments to produce statistics cost-effectively at any time – since with digital systems reliable, up-to-date, disaggregated population data are always available and can be instantly retrieved.
For individual citizens, certification of life events is indispensable proof of legal identity and nationality. Birth registration enables a child, among other things, to be vaccinated or to go to school. While growing up, minors are protected against violations of their rights such as child marriage or child labour. Official records of deaths and family relationships are also of great importance. Certification creates the basic prerequisite for citizens to assert their rights (including inheritance, property and voting rights), to participate in the life of the nation, and to make use of services guaranteed by the state.
Many CRVS systems are not yet fully functional
However, in many countries, the functionality of CRVS systems is hampered by a variety of bureaucratic, technical and geographic constraints. Particularly in developing countries, citizens still face considerable obstacles when trying to register life events. Excessive bureaucracy, considerable distances to travel, and in some cases ethnic discrimination can all act as barriers. People are often unaware of how the system works and of the opportunities and benefits of registering and documenting life events, all of which contribute to low registration rates. UNICEF estimates that in 2017 the births of barely 43% of all children under the age of five were registered in sub-Saharan Africa, and that even fewer children – around 27% – received a birth certificate (UNICEF, 2017).
CRVS promotion in German development cooperation and beyond
Although establishing functional routine systems is very time-intensive, CRVS promotion is gaining momentum worldwide: At the international level, development partners’ efforts to strengthen CRVS systems have been coordinated since 2014 by the Global CRVS Group. Among many other global and regional initiatives, the Africa Programme for Accelerated Improvement of CRVS (APAI-CRVS) was launched in view of harmonising systems on a regional basis in order to better apply regional and international standards in their implementation and to facilitate mutual support among African Union member states. German development cooperation supports partner countries such as Togo and Cameroon in improving their CRVS systems through a variety of measures, e.g. reinforcing registration of births and deaths at the national and local level, establishing a digital CRVS system, training civil registration officers and linking the health system with the CRVS system.
For more information on supporting CRVS systems, please refer to Chapter 5.3 of the handbook.
Example from Indonesia: Modernising the CRVS system
On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), from 2005 to 2013, GIZ advised the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs on modernising the country’s CRVS system. The Indonesian Government replaced legislation dating from the colonial era that, for example, prevented women from themselves registering their children. It also initiated administrative reforms in over 60 districts, trained public sector employees, strengthened the oversight of provincial authorities and set up modern citizen registration offices. Citizen-oriented measures in the Gresik district in Java province increased birth registration by 8% in one year. The ‘family cards’ (Kartu Keluarga) that often carried wrong or duplicated names were also renewed. These official documents, which are issued by Indonesian provincial governments to the head of the family, provide proof of the place of residence, the identities and the relationships between all family members. Thus the ‘family cards’ provide a record of births, deaths, emigration and immigration.
- UNICEF (2017): A Snapshot of Civil Registration in Sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF compiles information on the state of birth, death and marriage registration in African countries.