Getting registered is the key to unlocking a better future in Asia-Pacific

On 16 April, 2012 are the second rounds of Presidential Elections. Timor-Leste people flocked to the voting centre to casting their vote. A woman show her electoral card while she is lining up to voting centre cast her vote. Photo by UNMIT/Bernardino Soares

Imagine not being able to vote in elections, obtain formal employment, use banking services or own property. What if you had no access to basic services such as healthcare and education? Millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region face these challenges every day because they have not been registered.

Civil registration is the official recording of vital events in peoples’ lives such as birth, death, marriage, adoption and divorce. It provides legal documents to people like a birth certificate, which are essential for establishing legal identity and family relationships. These documents have fundamental implications for a wide range of ensuing rights, ranging from attending school, seeing a doctor and accessing social protection to combating child marriage and proving nationality.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, explains that civil registration is also the best source for producing vital statistics on the demographics and health of the population, such as population by province or leading causes of death.
“Putting this evidence in the hands of policy-makers allows them to better understand and more efficiently respond to the needs of society, and measure progress on critical development issues such as maternal and infant mortality,” says Dr. Akhtar. “By identifying emerging trends or populations at risk, governments can make targeted policy interventions.”

Despite all these benefits, the majority of countries in Asia and the Pacific are without universal and well-functioning civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems. Millions of people are without formal recognition that they exist, or of their vital events. They are hidden from the eyes of policy-makers because they are not included in official statistics. These essential statistics are therefore often based on estimates. In the Asia-Pacific region, 135 million children under five have not had their birth registered and roughly two-thirds of deaths are either unregistered or the causes are unreliably determined.

In response, ESCAP is driving the Get Every One in the Picture regional initiative with UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, WHO, ADB and Plan International in order to work with governments to accelerate the improvement of CRVS systems through advocacy, technical assistance, capacity-building, innovation and the sharing of best practice. This initiative is guided by a Regional Steering Group, chaired by the Fiji Minister of Health Dr. Neil Sharma, and comprises other high-level representatives of governments and development partners.

“Our region is on a journey of great consequence,” says Dr. Sharma. “CRVS systems help governments uphold their responsibility to base decisions on hard evidence and are fundamental to fulfilling the transformative shift towards inclusive and people centred development beyond 2015.”

The Get Every One in the Picture initiative has created significant momentum aimed at forging political commitment to address this fundamental issue. A key milestone is the first Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific (Bangkok, 24-28 November 2014) which will bring together Ministers of Interior, Justice, Health and Statistics to declare the ‘Asian and Pacific CRVS Decade’ for 2015 to 2024.

They are also expected to endorse a regional action framework with three goals for the Decade: universal civil registration, all individuals are provided with legal documentation to claim identity, and ensuing rights and accurate, complete and timely vital statistics. The Ministerial Conference will also position CRVS systems as key to a people-centred, inclusive and rights-based post-2015 development agenda.

For more information about the Get everyone in the picture initiative and Ministerial Conference, please visit: getinthepicture.org

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