Press Release

UNFPA ramps up its support to civil registration and vital statistics – a cornerstone of gender equality

29 Sep 2021

New York, 29 September 2021 After five years at Canada’s International Development Research Centre, UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, has become the new institutional host of the Centre of Excellence for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS). 

Civil registration and vital statistics systems capture the vital events in a person’s life – births, marriages, divorces, deaths, and cause of death – assuring that all persons have a legal identity.  But while most countries already operate a CRVS system, many feature glaring data gaps, with the births of tens of millions of children and an estimated two-thirds of deaths globally never registered. More recently the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inadequacies of national registration systems – many deaths went uncounted, and so did the causes.  

A disproportionate number of the data omissions relate to women and girls, and in some countries they live their entire lives under the radar, unable to claim their fundamental rights to access education or health care, to pass property to their children, or to exercise their civil and political rights, including their right to vote. 

“Without birth, marriage, divorce, and death registration, women and girls may fall through the cracks because they simply don’t have any legal identity,” said Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Director of UNFPA's Technical Division.  “Robust CRVS systems are the very foundation of gender equality. They start the process of enabling women and girls to claim their autonomy, and their rights, and to realize their full potential.”

This lack of identity exacerbates existing gender inequalities and discrimination. Without proof of age, a girl child is more at risk of early, forced or child marriage; without a marriage certificate women are vulnerable to disinheritance, loss of parental rights and access to basic entitlements. Where there is no certificate of divorce there is no legal basis for the distribution of parental responsibilities, or of common property, at the end of a marriage.

But a CRVS system is not only a basis for legal identity. The real-time data also provide key insights on reproductive health outcomes such as maternal and newborn deaths.  They allow faster tracking of changes in fertility than are possible in the census every 10 years, making it possible, for example, to monitor the impact of COVID-19 or other conditions on birth rates, or to evaluate how teen pregnancies are changing in a given location. In 2016, Uruguay’s government leveraged the digitization of its birth registration system to improve local monitoring of the adolescent birth rate, for example, enabling the government to target health and social interventions where support was most needed. By 2018, teenage pregnancies in Uruguay had fallen by nearly a half.

Funded by Global Affairs Canada, the Centre of Excellence, a global resource hub, has been hosted by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) since December 2015  supporting national efforts in 67 countries to develop, strengthen and scale  CRVS systems  that work for all, especially women and girls. 

“There has been a great deal of progress over the last five years in advancing social inclusion and protection for women and girls by ensuring they are visible,” said Jean Lebel, IDRC President. “The transition of the Centre of Excellence for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics from IDRC to UNFPA underscores our strong partnership and our collective vision of ensuring that no one is left behind as the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals inches ever closer.”

UNFPA is not a newcomer to supporting CRVS  systems, and has worked with governments and partners in a wide range of programme countries to strengthen them. In Burkina Faso, Morocco and Tanzania, for example, UNFPA has supported strengthening the electronic birth registration systems. In Chocó, Colombia, UNFPA has provided traditional birth attendants with digital tablets, linked to the National Statistics Office, to ensure that births and pregnancy-related deaths among indigenous communities, that take place outside of health facilities, are systematically registered and included in the vital statistics system. Operational intelligence on effective CRVS systems is a hallmark of the Centre of Excellence, one that will continue under the leadership of UNFPA. 

UNFPA will leverage its expertise to generate and use accurate and timely population data for development,  including through its technical support to censuses around the world, and continue to collaborate with national governments, statistical offices and institutions and UN sister agencies, to test and scale innovative solutions to strengthen robust CRVS systems that ensure every woman and girl are counted and protected throughout their lifetime.


UNFPA Media Contact:

For media and interview enquiries, please contact: Zina Alam, +1 929 378 9431, zialam@unfpa.org.

About UNFPA:

UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. UNFPA's mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled. UNFPA calls for the realization of reproductive rights for all and supports access to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning, quality maternal health care and comprehensive sexuality education. 

 

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