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Statement by Deputy Regional Director of UNICEF ESARO in the 3rd Conference of African Ministers for Civil Registration

Excellencies, Ministers responsible for Civil Registration, Ministers of Health,
Experts and colleagues from regional and international organizations, development and civil society partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocol duly observed

I sincerely thank the Government of Côte D’Ivoire for hosting this conference. And the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, for their roles in sustaining and cementing the remarkable partnership around civil registration and vital statistics of the past four years.

We have come a long way since we first met in Addis Ababa in 2010.

I commend the Ministers and government delegations from 40 countries who have gathered at this point of pivotal change in Africa’s development.

UNICEF welcomes the recommendations from this week’s Expert Group Meeting, which recognize that a well-functioning CRVS system lays the foundation for good governance and economic prosperity.

It has the power to completely transform development in Africa.

In this context, CRVS is a mandatory prerequisite for development and the fulfillment of human rights starting with - but only starting with - the right to legal identity through birth registration, for which CRVS is the vehicle.

For example, it provides reliable and economical data for ID and voter registration systems, which can be regularly and easily updated. We have heard this week how Cape Verde will no longer need to conduct an electoral census because its CRVS system is now comprehensive enough to provide that data.

It costs many times more to register votes in Kenya than Germany, because Germany uses CRVS. This is not right.

The UN Secretary General observed that:

“A good election alone is rarely sufficient to produce good governance; good governance on the other hand tends to produce good elections”.

The same can be said of CRVS, in that it grows strong affiliated systems from its well planted roots. When these systems work together, CRVS is likewise strengthened.

In this regard, interoperability with the health sector is our game changer. We have heard from several countries this week about dramatically improving coverage with birth registration programmes linked to immunization, and the health service’s role in collecting information on cause-of-death.

The economic imperative is also compelling.

A well-functioning civil registration system generates savings that dwarf costs - from less leakage in social transfer programmes to resource efficiency from better demographic data and planning.
The impact of CRVS on the health of a country and its people cannot be overstated.

Countries who understand this – such as Namibia, Senegal and South Africa – reap multiple rewards in terms of improved child and maternal health, data for effective policies, and efficiently allocated financial resources.

I represent UNICEF, and when we hear of something, we always ask “What does this mean for children?”

The launch at this conference of General Comment 2 on Article 6 of the African Children’s Charter testifies to what UNICEF advocates for every day:

One basic principle of child rights (all human rights) is that they are indivisible – all related.

This is so clearly true of birth registration which impacts on issues like justice for children; prevention of harmful practices; the rights to health, education and social welfare; the right to parental care and protection; rights of children with disabilities; the obligation to prevent statelessness; and the prevention of abuses such as recruitment as a child into the armed forces, sexual exploitation, child labour, human trafficking, child marriage, and disinheritance.

The gender implications of civil registration are also clear.

Addressing gender inequality and providing protection to women and girls though the registration of births, marriages, divorces and deaths has huge impacts including reduced maternal mortality and support to inheritance rights of women and children.

If only countries could have good vital statistics data from CRVS, they could not only monitor progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, but even increase the rate of progress. Yet sadly, most African countries couldn’t do that.

We must do better for the Sustainable Development Goals.

We are just months away from launching the post-2015 agenda which proposes “legal identity for all, including birth registration” by 2030.

This is a particular challenge in Africa where populations are predicted to increase dramatically in some countries. A UNICEF report from last year - Generation 2030/Africa - highlights that Africa can become a super-continent, reaping its demographic dividend, but only IF the right systems are in place and fully functional.

These systems start with CRVS.

Distinguished guests, we have reached a pivotal moment in both the development of CRVS within Africa, and in the development of Africa itself.

It is time to move from “momentum toward change” to “embedding change” into ongoing operations.

How to do that?

Partnership. And partnership led by Government.

Every government is committed to economic prosperity. And that means every government must commit to strengthening CRVS.

While CRVS reform is at the heart of economic development and policy making, governments have to resource both, or they risk not getting either.

UNICEF as part of the Accelerated Programme for the Improvement of CRVS Core Group, has been a trusted partner to governments in supporting the Comprehensive Assessment processes and the development of Costed Strategic Plans with the involvement of all stake holders, as a unique and effective initiative that builds commitment and fosters South to South cooperation.

Development partners are a catalyst helping to create change, but it is governments that own that change and in a sustainable way.

After all, as Niger noted at this conference: Statistics are a matter of national sovereignty. And so are the continent’s children. To this end I commend the conference recommendation to host a knowledge management platform for sharing experiences across the region.

Meanwhile, technology - much of it developed using African expertise - can transform systems and service delivery.

Great examples include the use of mobile registrars to reach remote rural areas, and new online technologies in hospitals.

Most countries are in the process of re-engineering and digitizing paper-based systems. This could be accelerated, observing standards that protect privacy and ensuring that national ID systems that are being created are also organically linked to civil registration.

And laws and regulations have to develop as fast as ICT solutions, as we saw in our Comprehensive Assessments.

Finally, we must ensure that improvements in CRVS serve individuals as well as governments.

Countries which have the most developed CRVS systems have successfully integrated the benefits of such a system to the State - reliable data - with the benefits to the individual in the form of enhanced human rights and access to services through birth certification.

A CRVS system which utilizes technology for birth notifications and registrations may be an advanced system on one level, but falls short if it omits the crucial step of certification.

CRVS cannot be said to support Good Governance if it fails human rights in this way.

So, in conclusion I want to underline three points:

1. A child’s first identity document is also their first right, that enables many rights and protects against violations of rights.

2. CRVS is a great investment.

3. It supports – and is supported by – Good Governance.

Distinguished Guests, your children – our children – demand from us the protection and potential that a good CRVS system will give them.

Let us not fail them, but let us rather continue and accelerate our commitment so that in two years’ time we look back with pride on what we have done for them.

Thank you




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