An international conference opened today in Bangkok to discuss civil registration. Indigenous people, minorities, refugees, stateless people and communities in border areas are at risk of remaining invisible and shut out of welfare programmes. Deaths are registered at an even lower rate.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – According to UNICEF, among all children under the age of 1 year worldwide, approximately 3 in 10 (an estimated 40 million) have not had their births registered in 2019. Of these, 16 million are in Asia and the Pacific. The figure rises to 64 million for children under 5.
This issue is on the agenda of the second Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) in Asia and the Pacific which opened today in Bangkok until Friday.
For the occasion, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) prepared a report titled Get everyone in the picture, which provides information about the progress achieved so far, and offers suggestions to governments as to what actions can be taken in terms of civil registration to achieve by the end of the decade the goals set out in the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Civil registration simply means registering a person’s birth and death in dedicated certificates. A functioning registry system not only enables people to have a legal identity, but also guarantees them access to basic services, such as passport, education, welfare and subsidies.
A death certificate conversely records death and its causes, and is used by courts as evidence in cases of inheritance, but also burial permits and funeral assistance. Registering causes of death is also invaluable to relatives for grieving and learning about inherited health conditions.
Data on people's lives also help elaborate useful statistics for informed decision-making processes by local governments and international organisations, such as the mortality rate (infantile and otherwise) and the spread of certain pathologies.
At least 67 UN indicators are based on life statistics from civil registration data; without them, effective policies cannot be implemented.
Lack of registration can mean invisibility and marginalise certain sections of the population, like rural communities, people living in isolated or border areas, minorities, indigenous people, migrants, refugees, non-citizens, stateless and undocumented people.
On the issue of birth certificates, the data are somewhat encouraging. The number of unregistered children under five in Asia and the Pacific dropped from 135 million in 2012 to 64 million in 2019.
Still, this means that one child in five (18 per cent) in the region do not have a birth certificate. Of these, more than 50 million live in South and Southwest Asia, but in percentage terms the most affected sub-region is the Pacific, where 30 per cent of children under five are not registered. In Southeast Asia, 9.5 million children (17 per cent) are without a birth certificate (see infographic).
Death registration in Asia and the Pacific is at an even lower than birth registration; only a third of deaths in 33 countries have been registered by a doctor or a health professional.
This is because there are fewer incentives to register deaths and because many deaths occur outside of health facilities.
Plus, even when deaths are registered recording the cause of death is a problem due to the lack of trained staff, this makes it hard to have precise mortality data, a situation recently compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In at least 13 countries, a verbal autopsy is performed, whereby family members or people closest to the deceased are interviewed to determine what may have been the cause of death.
Nevertheless, there have been improvements since 2015, but at this rate it will still be difficult for governments to meet the development goals of recording 100 per cent births and 80 per cent deaths by 2030.
But there are some bright spots. In Bangladesh, health workers who visit communities are required to collect data, so that the burden of registering births and deaths will fall on government authorities rather than families.
Known as the Kaliganj model, this approach has been expanded to the whole of Bangladesh. In just a few years, the model has led to an increase in completeness of birth registration, from 50 per cent to 83 per cent, and in death registration, from less than 10 per cent to 90 per cent.