Civil Registrars Spearhead Efforts to Achieve Universal Civil Registration in Asia-Pacific

A group of government officials from across the region met from 15 to 17 July at a meeting organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Plan International, and the World Health Organization (WHO). During the session the registrars decided to establish their own network to facilitate information sharing among themselves, alongside boosting involvement in a regional initiative to improve civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) in Asia and the Pacific.
Photo Credit: United Nations

A new network of civil registrars in Asia and the Pacific has been formed to ‘Get every one in the picture’ and push forward on regional efforts to achieve universal registration of births, deaths and marriages.
The group of government officials from across the region met from 15 to 17 July at a meeting organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Plan International, and the World Health Organization (WHO). During the session the registrars decided to establish their own network to facilitate information sharing among themselves, alongside boosting involvement in a regional initiative to improve civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) in Asia and the Pacific.

“The establishment of a civil registrars’ network is a big step forward towards achieving the goal of universal civil registration in the region by 2024,” said Jeffery Montgomery, Registrar-General of New Zealand.
In Asia and the Pacific, as many as 135 million children under five years old have not had their births registered and only four countries in the region have high quality information on why people are dying. This means that millions of people in the region live and die without leaving an official trace in record or statistics.

Ms Shamika Sirimane, Officer in Charge of ESCAP’s Statistics Division, explained: “As the basis for legal identity, civil registration is formal recognition of a person’s existence and is therefore a fundamental function of governments and imperative to inclusive development. Addressing the issues requires all stakeholders – government and development partners – to work together.”

The forum provided participants with the opportunity to learn from the experiences of different organizations, groups and government bodies engaged in CRVS work by exchanging experiences and good practices. Participants discussed ways to overcome a common challenge of providing civil registration in the hard-to-reach communities.

“Knowing the age of a child is central to protecting them from child labour, being arrested and treated as adults in the justice system, forcible conscription in armed forces, child marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation. In effect, birth registration is their ‘passport to protection’, ” said Valerie Taton, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Thailand.

"Civil registration of births, but also of marriages and deaths is important for everyone. It's especially important for people who are already vulnerable in so many ways, such as refugees and stateless people," said UNHCR's Senior Regional Protection Advisor, Thomas Vargas. "Among the most vulnerable are newborns and that's why registering newborn refugees is one of UNHCR's global strategic priorities. Civil registration is a tool for protection to all, children, women and men."

Besides civil registrars from the region, participants to the meeting included members of the Regional Steering Group for CRVS in Asia and the Pacific, government representatives, as well as sponsoring UN agencies and partners. “We realize that it is not possible for one organization to undertake this task alone; working in partnership with other key players is paramount. This is why eight development partners are co-organizing the Ministerial Conference on CRVS in Asia and the Pacific 24 to 28 November this year. Beyond this, involving the private sector will be key to ensuring that all children have their births registered, which is the first step to receiving an identity,” said Haider Yaqub, Asia Deputy Regional Director of Plan International.

During the first day of the meeting, the participants discussed the critical role of information and communications technologies (ICT) innovations in improving CRVS systems. They also highlighted the opportunities and warned against the challenges that such innovations can present. Following thought-provoking discussions, they agreed that despite their limitations, ICT innovations are fundamental to the design, implementation and monitoring of CRVS systems.

"Now is the time for civil registrars to form their own community of practice--which continue to be highly effective in health and statistics sectors of CRVS strengthening. Peer networks are valuable platforms for knowledge exchange, advocacy, capacity building, and innovation,” explained Mark Landry, Team Leader, Health Information, Evidence & Research of WHO.

The meeting also provided a forum for civil registrars in the region to define their role in the November Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific, set to take place on 24-28 November 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand, as well as understand the processes behind their contribution to its outcome documents, and discuss up-and-coming innovations in the field of CRVS.

For more information about the Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific, please visit: http://getinthepicture.org

Joint press release in conjunction with our partners: UNHCR, UNICEF, Plan International and WHO