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

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

Dr. Lisa Bersales, Chair of the ESCAP Committee on Statistics and
National Statistician and Civil Registrar General of the Philippines,

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

Welcome to the Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS).

Development responses in the Asia-Pacific region, home to 4.3 billion people, cannot be managed effectively unless backed by universal coverage civil registration systems that allow the production of accurate, timely, disaggregated and complete vital statistics. The sheer size of our regional population poses significant challenges for the recording and maintenance of such vital statistics, which are key to profile the characteristics of populations as the basis for development planning and policy responses. Even more essential to our people is their legal identity, which remains incomplete without these systems.

In the absence of comprehensive and dynamic registration, Governments face challenges in properly running public administration and democratic systems, or estimating development achievements, gaps and future requirements. Without a reliable and up-to-date record of vital statistics: election authorities cannot accurately determine voter’s lists or draw appropriate electoral boundaries; fiscal authorities cannot institute rule-based approaches to resource distribution and public spending; planning authorities cannot effectively develop long-term planning without an appreciation of population dynamics in future decades; and there are many other examples of policy making which cannot function without proper registration systems.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

A Vicious Cycle of Cradle-to-Grave Invisibility

To put these challenges into perspective, UNICEF estimates that 135 million children under the age of five in our region have never had their births registered - that’s more children than the total population of Japan. It means that one to two thirds of all Asia-Pacific children are without the formal basis for legal identity, having no official proof of their names, dates of birth, the identities of their parents, or where they were born.

These children are also at greater risk of exclusion in the early stages of their development, and are at life-long risk of exclusion from voting or having a passport, property ownership, social protection and applying for credit etc. Moreover, children with parents that have not been registered are less likely to have their own births registered – creating a vicious cycle of invisibility, inequality and injustice.

The issues at hand are much wider than just birth registration, however. For example:

Millions of Asia-Pacific marriages are never officially registered, so spouses are left without legal proof of standing to access entitlements or inheritances, and their children also face difficulties that range from the inability to have their father’s names appear on birth certificates to being unable to claim their nationality or other benefits.

Similarly, the World Health Organization estimates that two-thirds of global deaths are either not registered or the cause of death is never recorded. Understanding and recording why deaths have occurred is crucial for designing effective and responsive social and public health programmes, which take into account the health inequities experienced by vulnerable groups and communities, as well as the requirements of future populations.

Ad hoc surveys to collate basic information cannot substitute for the production of accurate, complete, disaggregated and timely vital statistics. Aside from being expensive and often unsustainable, such ad hoc attempts often under-represent needs and requirements. More often than not the communities and individuals missing from such survey data are the most in need of the development spotlight.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

CRVS Systems: Prerequisites for Development

Civil registration and vital statistics systems, as they contribute to effective public administration, good governance and basic human rights, are a prerequisite for sustainable development.

This is also why CRVS features in the proposals of the United Nations General Assembly’s Open Working Group for the sustainable development goals, and why CRVS has been recognized as an important tool for improving health outcomes by the Secretary-General’s Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.

The improvement of regional CRVS systems is a valuable opportunity for implementation of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, through its associated goals and transformative changes to strengthen monitoring and accountability for better development results.

The United Nations regional commissions have been mandated by our Member States to be the conduit for effective monitoring and accountability of the next phase of global development. It is recognized that both Governments and the private sector are responsible for ensuring that their decisions are evidence-based and transparent, so they can be held accountable by the people whose lives and livelihoods are impacted.

CRVS is not a new endeavour. This regional Conference has its genesis in 2009 - the first session of ESCAP’s Committee on Statistics - when the National Statistical Offices of the Asia-Pacific region agreed that improving vital statistics should be a key priority. Since then, our regional initiatives have matured:

  • First and foremost the public administration machinery is now serving as the preferred source of vital statistics;
  • Second the High-level Meeting on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific, convened in December 2012 (with 45 Governments represented) provided a regional platform to discuss a more coordinated and integrated approach to the development of the civil registration, health and statistics sectors; and
  • Third, this helped to elevate CRVS concerns and priorities so that technical stakeholders now fully understand the value of universal, well-functioning and quality CRVS systems.

There remains, however, a continued need to generate the necessary political will and commitment to execute this.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

Goals of the Conference

This is why we are here: to tackle two clear and equally critical tasks.

First, we count on your efforts to consider a comprehensive Ministerial Declaration to Get Every One In The Picture, which will set a vision for the region to achieve universal and responsive civil registration and vital statistics systems in all countries by 2024. Based on your work, our region has the opportunity to declare 2015 to 2024 as the Asian and Pacific Decade of Action for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics.

The second task is to coordinate a regional action framework of regional goals, national targets and areas of action to accelerate and galvanize Governments and development partners, while thinking through the need to establish regional and national accountability for successful implementation of this framework, as our roadmap to achieving the vision set out in the Ministerial Declaration.

The three goals to be achieved by 2024 – universal civil registration, universal access to legal documentation, and accurate, complete and timely vital statistics from registration – have been developed by a regional steering group of senior government officials and experts. They have also been the subject of extensive consultations with Governments and other stakeholders since April this year, including at our Civil Society Forum and intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting in August.

Our work over the next five days will also benefit from a wide-ranging programme of special sessions, covering a broad spectrum of multi-faceted development topics from the data revolution to youth, child marriage and CRVS innovations.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

Ground-breaking CRVS Partnerships

CRVS implementation will benefit from the extensive collaboration among development partners, which involves eight co-organizing United Nations agencies, with the further collaboration of seven more.

ESCAP owes thanks to our co-organizers including UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, WHO, ADB and Plan International.

I would like here to especially recognise Ms. Nobuko Horibe, Regional Director of UNFPA in Asia and the Pacific.

The Conference has also benefitted from the inputs of the World Bank Group, Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, the Asia Pacific Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, PARIS21, SPC, World Vision and the European Union.

I can assure you that this partnership will go beyond a single ministerial Conference – offering support to implement the outcomes we agree to this week.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

Conclusion

In conclusion, I urge you all to take advantage of this opportunity to agree on outcomes that allow us to get every birth, death, marriage, girl and boy, woman and man in the picture by 2024.

It is time to end the blind spots, eliminate the official invisibility and make every person count for the future we want in Asia and the Pacific.

I thank you.