Collaborating across South Asia to improve civil registration


Kendra J. Gregson, UNICEF ROSA | Daniel Swaisgood, ESCAP
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Wahid Adnan / Drik / UNICEF
13 July 2020

In South Asia, 77 million children under the age of five lack proof of who their parents are, where they were born or even their own names. Worldwide, one in four children remains unregistered, and the largest concentration of unregistered children in the world are in South Asia. Without this necessary legal documentation, these children are at risk of exploitation, child marriage and underage recruitment into military services. Currently, they are also at risk of being left out of national socio-economic responses to COVID-19, including social protection systems. In addition, many of these children are simply barred from accessing services meant to enhance their rights and assist in their development, such as access to education and health services.

Birth registration is the first step in acknowledging a person’s existence, granting legal identity, and protecting a wide variety of ensuing rights over the course of a person’s lifetime. Moreover, a birth certificate is often the very documentation a person needs both to establish their national identity and protect those exact same rights. A child also benefits not only from their own birth certificate, but from the marriage registration of their parents and death registration of their ancestors. And a comprehensive civil registry recording all the vital events of the population within its borders protects children and adults as individuals, as a family and as a collective.

Recognizing this lack of registration, dedicated civil registration professionals in South Asia created a network for support while improving national civil registration (CR) systems. The Civil Registration Professionals of South Asia (CR8) are supported by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia.

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Jannatul Mawa/UNICEF

The CR8 emphasizes the important role civil registration professionals play in achieving universal civil registration and certification of vital events for all. This includes birth, death and marriage registration, as well as divorce and adoption. The establishment of the group follows in the footsteps of the Pacific Civil Registrars Network, which is successfully supporting CR improvements across the Pacific. As such, the CR8 network was created for sharing information and resources, lessons learned and good practices, acknowledging the similar challenges faced by civil registration professionals across South Asia, and with a view to leaving no one behind and ensuring legal identity for all.

Both networks are built on the mutual understanding that civil registration professionals are key to reaching Asia and the Pacific’s shared vision that 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.

Globally, the importance of birth registration is underscored by its centrality to Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, legal identity for all, including birth registration for all. This goal is measured by indicator 16.9.1: the proportion of children under 5 years of age whose births are registered with a civil authority.

South Asia has, over recent years, undergone a large transition towards digitalized civil registration systems, a process which is yet to be completed. Countries are employing different information and communication technologies (ICT) to achieve their objectives. At times, these are placed within a broader ID-Management structure requiring reflection upon potential legal reforms so laws can keep pace with needed practices, preemptively address what is required, and reflect international standards, such as the right to privacy.

Understanding the scope of the challenges ahead, the CR8 network convened for their second meeting in Maldives, from 26 – 29 November 2019, to continue addressing cross-border collaboration efforts and share good practices for improving systems.

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As a result of this meeting, the CR8 produced the second iteration of the Civil Registration in South Asia report, this time focusing specifically on Regulations, Relationships & The Role of ICT in Strengthening Civil Registration.

The report includes three papers which supported the discussions during the CR8 meeting. Each paper also incorporates the discussions held during the meeting itself to account for the valuable input from the participants. In addition, the conclusions and recommendations, are included, and highlight the importance of legislation to uphold individual privacy and to recognize civil registration as the basis for any identity-management system.

The report further notes marriage and divorce recognition may differ by culture and that registration of these events is closely linked with social protection, birth registration, and preventing child marriage. The report also recognized ICT as a tool that can facilitate civil registration and make CR more robust, so long as it reflects the law and maintains the principles of civil registration including confidentiality. Finally, the report also details the commitment the CR8 groups makes to promote continued collaboration among the countries in South Asia.

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