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Securing legal identity for all Africans is key to sustainable development

19 April, 2024
Editorial credit: Nigel J. Harris /

Addis Ababa, 19 April 2024 (ECA) - Development experts are calling for political support to accelerate investment in effective civil registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) systems that will give legal identity to all members of the population.

During a webinar on “Africa’s Progress Towards SDG Target 16.9: Legal Identity for All Including Birth Registration by 2030”, hosted by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), experts revealed that despite progress in the development of CRVS systems in most African countries, the continent still faces challenges in reporting births and deaths.

Mr.Oliver Chinganya, the Director of the African Centre for Statistics (ACS), expressed concern that Africa is still lagging in providing up-to-date, accurate, and timely statistics on births and deaths on the continent. He highlighted the importance of statistics in formulating sound economic development policies and said that although Africa has made progress in the development and awareness of CRVS systems over the past ten years, challenges remain that need urgent action.

Mr. Chinganya emphasized the need for political support rather than mere political will, stating that anyone can have a will but political support requires action. He stressed the need for a commitment to meet the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development with just six years to the deadline.

In 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Agenda, which included target 16.9 specifically focusing on providing legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030. Target 17.9 calls for support in strengthening statistical capacity, including civil registration and vital statistics systems, to achieve 100% birth registration and 80% death registration.

A well-functioning CRVS system registers all births and deaths, issues birth and death certificates, and compiles and disseminates vital statistics, including the cause of death information.

Mr.William Muhwava, Chief of Demographic and Social Statistics at the African Centre for Statistics, called for political commitment to providing and adequately funding civil registration as a public good and service. He highlighted that although governments had policies supporting civil registration and the production of vital statistics, the enforcement of the laws was lax. This necessitated the need for member states to build institutional capacity among relevant ministries to scale up the delivery of legal documents.

“Communities should have access to information and knowledge about the availability and benefits of the service as we believe that if people see the value of the legal documents then the uptake will be quite high,” Mr. Muhwava noted.

Ms. Karin Heissler, UNICEF Regional Adviser on Child Protection for West and Central Africa, emphasized that every child has a right to be registered because, without legal identity, children are invisible and at risk of being stateless.

“In the demographic transitions taking place across the globe and that the vast majority of the world population will be African in the coming years, it is very important that we continue to focus on birth registration and legal identity across the continent,” Ms. Heissler said, adding that more than half of unregistered children under the age of five live in East and Southern Africa.

A 2022 assessment report by UNICEF and ECA, A Statistical Update on Birth Registration in Africa, found that 20 countries in Africa are on track to achieve universal birth registration by 2030, while 23 countries need to accelerate progress.

Ms. Heissler said increased investment and results in immunization and institutional delivery of birth registration was an opportunity to boost registration levels. She called for the elimination of bottlenecks in registration such as discriminatory laws and practices, accessibility, and insufficient decentralization of services as well as their affordability.

Mr. Benson Droti, who heads the Health Information Systems team at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, said in his presentation at the webinar that many births and deaths in Africa remain unrecorded. He noted that a recent assessment by WHO found that about two-thirds of the countries in the African region have no information on death registration, cause of death certification, and quality of death certification, noting that these are worrying statistics. “African countries have a fundamental responsibility to develop and strengthen their capabilities for birth and death reporting, " said Droti, highlighting that in Africa, there were big gaps in the capacity to correctly diagnose the cause of death.

On behalf of the member states, Josephine Mukesha, Director General of the National Identification Agency in Rwanda pointed out that the country experiences a challenge of limited funding for accelerating the implementation and maintenance of civil registration systems. She recommended increased financial and technical support coupled with country ownership of the systems for sustainability and a way for accelerating progress towards SDG targets.

Mr. Olivier Kadanga, Director General of the Civil Registration Division of Togo, highlighted the need to have a comprehensive assessment of the civil registration systems and a review of the civil registrations to facilitate the improvement of the civil registration system.

Ms. Henrietta Lamptey, Acting Registrar Births and Deaths Registry of Ghana affirmed that to accelerate progress towards SDG targets, the country needs to implement digital solutions and technologies in data collection to integrate systems while ensuring continuous capacity building and awareness creation. In addition, countries should develop and enforce robust policy frameworks and legal regulations to support the implementation and sustainability of CRVS systems, and those with outmoded CRVS laws and policies should take steps to amend them.

Issued by:
Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
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