• anninawersun

We already know how to achieve universal birth registration - let’s do it

Updated: Mar 25

What’s the problem?


Civil registration systems are broken - only 43% of births in Sub-Saharan Africa are registered, falling far short of SDG 16.9 target by 2030 provide legal identity for all, including birth registration, and ultimately leaving these children behind.

We have 8 years to turn things around.


While this is no small undertaking, we’ve been at this for some time, and now is a great moment to pause and reflect on what we have collectively learnt from the enormous efforts of development partners and governments to date.


As the title of this blog implies, at OpenCRVS.org we believe that we do actually know what we need to do to achieve universal registration, but it requires some uncomfortable conversations, a move away from “we’ve always done it that way”, leadership from a brave few to pave the way, and action.


What are the barriers to achieving universal birth registration?


There are a number of barriers that we know are preventing universal birth registration:

  1. Rules and regulations that make universal birth registration impossible i.e. requiring a supporting document that not all people have, or limiting the people who can declare a birth.

  2. Passive services that put the onus on individuals to take action. Parents and caregivers often have to travel many miles on several occasions to register a birth, making the time commitment and cost of registration prohibitive for many people.

  3. A lack of the perceived value of a birth certificate. In many cases, the promise of a birth certificate unlocking basic rights and services is not in line with people’s experiences.

  4. The large number of data fields required: for many years now, civil registration has been recognised as the sole continuous source of population data. However, using civil registration to collect vital statistics comes at a cost; the long forms are time-consuming to complete and can inhibit registration. The result is lower registration rates, which ironically make the vital statistics data less valuable. Whatever you think about Aadhaar, enrollment levels (1.3 billion and counting) have been mightily impressive - could this be something to do with the small number of data fields (just 5 - Name, Address, DoB, Gender, Mobile Number, Email)?

So what can we do?


Make birth registration easy: Reduce the amount of mandatory data to be collected for birth registration, bring birth registration services closer to where births take place (health facilities or within the community) and empower local actors to collect data within their communities.


Use a regulatory sandbox: countries can use a time-bound exemption to the current rules and regulations in order to prove the value of different interventions i.e. improved service delivery models and reducing the data requirements for BR. In this way, any changes to rules and regulations can be based on evidence that doing so will contribute to an increase in birth registration rates. Read more about regulatory sandboxes here.


Use technology as an enabler: technology has the potential to provide transformative improvements in CRVS systems, however digital CRVS systems are only as effective as the services they enable, so start there. Before writing a long list of requirements for your system, consider using OpenCRVS to test out these models before investing in your eCRVS solution. You can configure OpenCRVS for use in a country within 1 week and get it into the hands of your users for feedback.


Test, test, test! whatever strategy you adopt - it won’t be right first time. It is critical to take an approach of continuous improvement, measuring key performance indicators as you go, to understand empirically what is working and what isn’t and then improving your approach in an iterative fashion. We are always learning.


Join the conversation

The 8 year countdown starts now. We would love to hear what you think about the ideas shared in this blog, and whether you think we can achieve universal birth registration by 2030 using these strategies. Please join the conversation on the OpenCRVS Discourse channel.


We believe that challenging the status quo is critical to progress. This blog is intended to start a discussion about how we can do things differently in order to leave no-one behind.


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