Setting course for reliable civil registration

26 February 2015
UNFPA Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Beatrice Mutali.
UNFPA Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Beatrice Mutali.

YAMOUSSOUKRO, Côte d’Ivoire — African ministers pledged to mobilize greater financial resources to strengthen civil registration systems, at the 3rd Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration. The event was organized by the African Union (AU) and the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), with the support of partners including UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, from 9-13 February. UNFPA reaffirmed its support to states in strengthening their civil registration and vital statistics system.

The third conference, which came after those of Addis Ababa in 2010 and Durban in 2012, began with a session bringing together more than 300 experts from African states, international institutions and civil society. It ended with the meeting of ministers responsible for civil registration.

The ministers pledged to mobilize more funds internally and externally for civil registration systems. They also recommended that Heads of State and Government of the African Union declare 2015-2024 as the decade for repositioning civil registration and vital statistics in regional and national development agendas.

UNFPA reaffirmed its commitment to States, through the presence of a strong delegation led by UNFPA Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Beatrice Mutali. UNFPA emphasized the need to declare births and register them, and especially to have good knowledge of the vital statistics in a country. More than an administrative formality, it is a matter of good governance and a basis for development.

Mrs. Mutali said that without women and children, this aspiration could not be met. “The fact that children do not have identity has serious consequences for the country, because it does not have reliable statistics on this segment of the population for its development. It is difficult in these conditions for governments to conduct good planning. The situation is similar for women. They are not registered during marriages.” Consequently, in case of divorce or death, they are excluded from succession, she said.

Women face unacceptably high rates of maternal mortality in Africa. UNFPA invests in the sexual and reproductive health of women and youth, as well as access to social services. In 1970, UNFPA began its cooperation with African governments on the issue of vital statistics and civil registration, Mrs. Mutali said.

Dr. Richmond Tiemoko, UNFPA Regional Advisor on Population Dynamics.

Disastrous situation

Dr. Richmond Tiemoko, UNFPA Regional Advisor on Population Dynamics, said the situation relating to the declaration and registration of births and deaths was far from glowing. According to the United Nations 2014 report, statistics on births and deaths are very limited and not regularly updated. Out of 238 countries and areas covered, the most recent available data on live births go back four years or more for only 146 countries (61 per cent). For 35 countries, there are no available statistics on live births for the period 1998-2012. The availability of data on deaths (total) is similar. “As for marriages and divorces, the rates are lower and the statistics almost non-existent in Africa,” Mr. Tiemoko said.

Women at a disadvantage

In a joint communication from UNFPA, UNECA and AUC, Diop Ngone, in charge of Gender at ECA, said gender must be taken into account in the establishment of civil registration systems. Excluding women and children from its governance is to show ‘exclusion’. “More than 80 per cent of single women in Africa cannot register their children because they do not know where the civil registration services are. Even though they would like to, they are prevented by some constraints that require the signature of the father to register the birth of a child. When he is absent, this formality becomes difficult. It should be noted also that in many countries the basis for granting nationality to children is dependent on the nationality of the father," she said.

Over 20 million unregistered children

Beatrice Amoin Kouadio, speaking on behalf of young people, urged countries to take young people into account in their development policies. At present around 20 million do not appear to exist because they had not been reported to the registry, she said. Young people face obstacles such as lack of schooling, early marriage and early pregnancy. “This prevents the realization of their potential and ultimately, their chances of reaping the demographic dividend.” If this expectation is not met, “children without legal identity will become youth facing constant challenges in their daily lives. They are likely to miss opportunities in education, health, employment, political participation and freedom of movement." As for girls, "they will be trapped in a cycle of poverty and therefore most vulnerable to forced labour."

— UNFPA and Marcelline Gneproust