Birth registration, the official government record of a child's birth, establishes the existence of the child under law and provides the foundation for safeguarding many of the child's civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that all children have the right to be registered at birth without discrimination. UNICEF emphasizes the central role of birth registration in ensuring that children are counted and have access to basic services such as health, social security and education.
UNICEF strategic actions are geared towards strengthening national child protection systems in order to reduce the obstacles of registering every child at birth, and to register marriages. Actions in support of registration include: legal and policy reform; civil registry strategic planning, capacity building and raising awareness; communitybased registration and social mobilization campaigns; and specific for birth registration, its integration into other services such as health and education. Innovative approaches are also used, including SMS technology and support to governments to develop online birth registration information systems. In South Asia, UNICEF has set ending child marriage as a regional priority. Birth and marriage registration is one action that can support the ending of this harmful practice.
Since birth, death and marriage registration policies, systems and procedures vary country by country and across regions, there is a need to ensure these differences are documented and understood for policy, programming and data collection purposes.
To address these gaps in knowledge, UNICEF is facilitating the documentation of policies and procedures for birth, death and marriage registration to gain insight into country specific structural barriers and incentives for registration in countries of South Asia. The objective of this report is to document the policies, systems and procedures in place for the registration of births, deaths and marriages in the region.
In particular, the report focuses on documenting the following points:
i. The legal framework for civil registration, its compliance with the principles of civil registration and the procedures for registering births, deaths and marriages;
ii. The organization of civil registration;
iii. The availability of the civil registration system and its proximity to the population, particularly in remote areas;
iv. The cost of registration, which is a barrier to universal registration in several countries;
v. The minimum age of marriage, including its derogations, which has an impact on the continuing child marriage practice;
vi. The information collected via civil registration and its compliance with the recommended topics of the United Nations Principles and Recommendations for a vital statistics system; and
vii. Coverage of the civil registration system.
Following the declaration adopted at the November 2014 Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific, held in Bangkok, Thailand, many South Asia countries conducted comprehensive assessments of their civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems. This exercise led stakeholders to a greater understanding of the urgent need to reform and improve CRVS systems. As an outcome of the assessments, several countries developed or are in the process of developing CRVS strategic plans with the assistance of international organizations such as UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO). Typical strategic actions include revising the legal framework, establishing a central civil registration agency, developing a network of local registrars, engaging communication operations to raise public awareness and developing IT tools to improve the quality of civil registration.
All countries reviewed in this report have a legal framework for civil registration, with the exception of Bhutan for which there is reference to birth registration in the Bhutan Citizen Act. However, some legal frameworks are incomplete, and do not cover all the items aforementioned. In particular, the establishment of vital statistics is usually not mentioned in the legal acts. The definition of vital events is rarely provided and in compliance with international definitions, leading to possible biases.
The legal age for marriage is 18 years or older for both men and women in only three of the countries under review. Child marriage (under 18), without parental or court consent, is still permitted for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka an even lower age of marriage is allowed with parental and/or court consent for girls, and child grooms are legal in Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Across the region, 30 per cent of women aged 20�24 were married before the age of 18. The three countries with the highest rates of child marriage are Bangladesh (59 per cent), Nepal (40 per cent) and Afghanistan (35 per cent).
The organizational structures for the efficient management, operation and maintenance of the system might be centralized or decentralized. A centralized system relies on being managed at the national level, with subnational offices at appropriate local levels. Decentralized systems are those where the primary responsibility for civil registration and local vital statistics rests with subnational authorities, such as governments of states or provinces. In the case of decentralized systems, a national organization would establish national standards and guidelines to be applied uniformly and compile overall statistics for the country from the data provided by the subnational entities. In South Asia, only Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka have a centralized civil registration system. However, even in countries where the civil registration system is decentralized, a national agency is responsible for setting standards of practice. Nevertheless, federal countries where civil registration is under the responsibility of the states face discrepancies in the process of registration, including different fees.
The UN Principles and Recommendations for a Vital Statistics System sets out the topics or variables to be investigated for vital statistics purposes through the civil registration system for each vital event. The list of recommended topics is structured around two collection priorities: higher priority or core topics, and less urgent or additional topics.1 The UN Principles and Recommendations endorses four basic variables that are collected in all countries date of occurrence, date of registration, place of occurrence, place of registration. In contrast, compliance in the collection of core topics on marriage is better than for death which is better than the case of live births. In particular, information of high value for monitoring reproductive health for example, presence of an attendant at birth or weight at birth are missing in many countries.
Constraints and bottlenecks remain and hinder the improvement of civil registration and vital statistics in general and the identification of the population in South Asia. These include: lack of knowledge or understanding of the civil registration process among large sections of the population; insufficient staff numbers and among them relatively low qualification levels; insufficient number of civil registration centres to adequately serve remote populations; lack of computerization of the civil registration procedures, to mention a few.
It is therefore necessary to support South Asia countries to develop and strengthen their civil registration and vital statistics systems, in particular by considering civil registration of all vital events instead of focusing only on registration of births or deaths, and to help countries to build sustainable systems.
Source: UN Children's Fund