When I started working in the Population and Social Statistics Section at ESCAP, I was asked to support a programme of work on CRVS.
“What is it?” I asked myself. The UN always uses a lot of abbreviations, but this one was new to me.
Without any clue, I hurriedly searched for the meaning on Google. CRVS stands for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics, which is about recording vital events such as births, marriages or deaths, and using this information for producing statistics. Civil registration is the foundation to prove who we are — a foundation for our legal identity.
Well, okay, and so what? This topic didn’t really ring a bell at all. I was born in a middle-income family and my parents registered my birth. I could go to school, get treatment at hospitals, and as an adult, apply for jobs. So, why should I be interested in CRVS?
Until… I read two stories that changed my outlook. Stories which made it clear why CRVS is important.
Dokkaw is a girl from the Palong Minority, and lives in Chiang Rai Province. She was born at home and her parents failed to register her within 15 days of her birth. Without a birth certificate, she could not receive welfare services. She was at risk of not being able to access healthcare. She never went out of Chiang Rai because she did not have legal documents to get travel authorization.
The second story is about Kyaw, who lives in a flimsy tent with his family in a Yangon slum. When he was five, his mother tried to enroll him in school, but she couldn’t without a birth certificate.
After reading these two stories, my sadness grew. People without legal identity are like people living an invisible life. They can walk and talk like the rest of us but their voices have rarely been heard, and their needs have hardly been responded to. They could be easily left out from society.
According to UNICEF, 65 million children under the age of five have not been registered in Asia and the Pacific. They are living without an official proof of identity which means there are big obstacles for them to get access to healthcare, education and other forms of social services.
That’s why the world has agreed on target 16.9 under the Sustainable Development Goals stating legal identity, including birth registration, should be provided to all by 2030.
The commitment to advancing CRVS in the Asia-Pacific region
To ensure stories like these become a thing of the past, countries and development partners came together at a Ministerial Conference in 2014 and agreed on the shared vision ‘by 2024, all people in Asia and the Pacific will benefit from universal and responsive civil registration and vital statistics systems that facilitate the realization of their rights and support good governance, health and development’. To achieve this vision, they adopted the ‘Regional Action Framework on CRVS in Asia and the Pacific’ and proclaimed the ‘ Asian and Pacific CRVS Decade, 2015-2024’.
Celebrating progress in CRVS in Asia and the Pacific
Five years have passed, many steps have been taken to improve CRVS, and significant progress has been made through concerted efforts from countries, civil society organisations, development partners and donors.
In the case of Dokkaw, luckily, the law changed to allow all children born in Thailand, regardless of their legal status, to receive birth certificates. With the support from Plan International, she could get her birth registered and later apply for citizenship as she has been living for more than 15 years in Thailand. And in the case of Kyaw, he finally could attend school at the age of seven with the support from World Vision and his mother to get him a birth certificate.
To celebrate the achievements of the first half of the Decade (2015-2024), ESCAP and development partners will organize the Second Ministerial Conference on CRVS in Asia and the Pacific from 6 to 9 October 2020 in Bangkok. The Conference will also discuss issues such as the link between CRVS and legal identity, CRVS as an instrument to achieve the SDGs, and promote renewed commitment at the national and regional level. More information on the Conference will be shared through unescap.org and getinthepicture.org.
Although we can celebrate our efforts in the progress made, there is still a long way to go to ensure no one is left behind. But, if we want to end poverty and narrow the gap of inequality, promoting universal and inclusive civil registration can be an entry point to make people visible with rights and dignity.
Yes, the road would be rugged, and we might be weary at some point. But it is always worthwhile to see the outcome and the impact on people such as Dokkaw and Kyaw.