Opening statement at the Ministerial Segment of the Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) in Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the opening of the ministerial segment of the Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) in Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

Your Excellency, General Anupong Paochinda,
Minister of the Interior, Royal Thai Government

Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the first Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) in Asia and the Pacific.

ESCAP and our co-organisers are pleased to bring together, for the first time at the Ministerial and intergovernmental level, the civil registration, health and statistics sectors, along with the wider United Nations family and our development partners.

This platform has achieved a lot over the last few days – it has already helped to advance the CRVS agenda in Asia and the Pacific, and we look forward to a vibrant outcome with agreements on a common, harmonized approach to guide Governments and development partners in moving forward to improve civil registration and vital statistics systems in countries across the region.

This Conference is a valuable opportunity. If effectively implemented, the two outcome documents, the Ministerial Declaration and the Regional Action Framework, can transform how we approach the improvement of civil registration and vital statistics systems. But they require serious political commitment.

A lack of attention and coordination has resulted in mixed progress on CRVS across the countries of Asia and the Pacific. We have a number of member States who have achieved a high level of completeness, accuracy and reliability in their recording of key life events. In others, however, registration systems have suffered from under-investment and duplication of systems, with some initiatives taken in isolation without a comprehensive framework or the ability for them to be seamlessly linked.

Civil society and non-government actors have often been excluded from these processes (but not today), problems compounded by a lack of proper institutionalization, a shortage of trained people and weak operational expenditure support. The result has been significant gaps and a growing lack of capability to update and maintain these systems.

The numbers speak of the size and urgency of the gaps to be filled. Roughly 135 million children under the age of five in our region, or between one and two thirds of all children in Asia and the Pacific, have not had their births registered . Similarly, about two-thirds of deaths that occur in the region are not registered or the cause of the death is incorrectly certified. This is unacceptable in the age of digital information and the era of the big data revolution.

Compiling basic demographic data to properly profile populations is a primary responsibility of all States, and a critical element of good governance. In Asia and the Pacific the task is undoubtedly complicated by a variety of cultural and social traditions, and must also confront rapidly changing population dynamics – driven by high fertility rates; high maternal and child mortality rates; growing populations of both youth and the elderly; a high incidence of new diseases and epidemics; natural disasters as well as a range of other critical transformations and developments.

The absence of universal and well-functioning CRVS systems across Asia and the Pacific means that we either do not know, or have incomplete records at disaggregated levels of, among others:

  • Fertility and death rates;
  • Life expectancy;
  • Causes of death;
  • How many children are dying, why and where; and
  • How many people are dying of, for instance, malaria, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases.

The benefit of civil registration at the individual level is self-evident. Civil registration creates an official record, and issuance of documents gives people a formal legal identity, civil status and recognises their family relationships. Civil registration provides a sense of belonging and supports human dignity. It provides access to a host of services and entitlements, ranging from schooling and banking, to claiming inheritances, nationality and a passport.

The society-level impacts of CRVS are wide-ranging: accurate civil registration records help to target public service delivery. Beyond simply counting every person, more nuanced statistics, disaggregated by smaller administrative regions, or by age and sex, can facilitate the transformation of societies through concerted policy interventions to reduce inequalities.

Among other noteworthy regional examples, here in Thailand the unique 13-digit identity number and card system has streamlined the delivery of public services, with social welfare and other payments now better targeted and offering universal health coverage. Population distribution data across provinces also allows for more efficient allocation of public expenditures. Thank you Minister Paochinda – we will clearly learn a lot for you and your colleagues here today.

Civil registration also aids the development of responses to disasters and the provision of humanitarian relief. In September 2013, when an earthquake hit Balochistan province in Pakistan, using the National Database and Registration Authority - the civil registration system of Pakistan – authorities were able to account for the missing and determine who was eligible for immediate financial relief. Computerized national identity cards helped to prevent duplication.

Improving death registration and death certification processes has allowed the Mongolian Ministry of Health to track maternal deaths and allocate adequate resources and staff to parts of the country with the highest rates of maternal mortality. Since this concerted effort began in 2001, the maternal mortality rate in Mongolia has decreased from 96 for every 100,000 births in 2000 to 63 in 2010.

In the long-term, civil registration and vital statistics systems is also from the statistics perspective a smart investment. Norway, for instance, has reduced the cost of conducting its population census by 90 per cent by moving towards a registration-based census. Many countries in our region, including the Republic of Korea and Thailand, are moving towards the same approach to censuses.

We are now turning a new page. The United Nations General Assembly will next year consider adoption of a post-2015 development agenda that, among others, includes a target of “legal identity for all” by 2030. The agenda emphasizes the role of statistics, with information extending beyond being a tool for measuring development to being a tool (for policy-makers and the public) which actually makes development happen.

We need to reenergize and rethink how we go about enhancing CRVS systems. A recently released report by The World Bank Group and the World Health Organization on Global Scaling Up CRVS Investment Plan for 2015 to 2024, estimates that the financing gap for supporting the improvement of CRVS systems is US$199 million per year, for ten years – or US$1.99 billion.

Building on this, just two months ago, the Governments of Canada, Norway and the United States announced plans to establish the Global Financing Facility for Every Woman Every Child in 2015. This is anticipated to offer financing opportunities for countries that have assessed their CRVS system and developed cost estimates for well-structured national plans.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

To conclude, I wish to thank all Government representatives, in particular the Ministers who have joined us for this critical discussion. The enthusiasm for this work has been impressive, as evident from our large number of co-organizers. Let me here thank Mr. Daniel Toole, Regional Director of UNICEF in East Asia and the Pacific, for being here today to also share his perspectives. The extent to which the co-organizers and partners have worked so well together to bring this agenda for deliberation to your level, augurs well for a transformational outcome backed by strong and lasting political commitment.

For our part, ESCAP will remain committed to first working as One UN, getting our house in order to support your efforts in better CRVS – recording every birth, death, marriage, adoption, divorce, girl, boy, woman, man and baby.

It’s time to get every one in the picture.

I thank you.