Durban: From preventing children from being used in armed conflicts to putting a stop to killer diseases, an effective civil registration system and accurate vital statistics can improve lives on the African continent.
This is according Dr Dimitri Sanga, Director at the African Centre for Statistics at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, who is also one of the speakers at the 2nd Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Conference that is underway in Durban.
Speaking to SAnews on Monday, Sanga highlighted the importance of civil registration and vital statistics. He said it could be used to assist in situations where children were forced into armed conflict; young girls were forced into marriage, widows were left penniless; or to prevent deaths from the outbreak of disease.
It was vital that a country had records of citizens and their births, deaths, marriage, divorces, adoptions and other significant events in their lives. “The registration of birth guarantees the person has the right to a name, a right to a nationality and the right to identify the parents… We need that proof because all these things have implications later on in the life of the person, like when the child attends school,” he pointed out.
Marriage certificates were particularly important to widows on the African continent, as proof of the marriage could ensure they received what was rightfully theirs when their husbands passed away. In instances of armed conflict, a simple document like a birth certificate could help identify children forced into such situations – the first step in helping them out of it, Sanga added.
It was also important to register deaths, so that authorities could look at causes and possibly identify patterns or diseases and deal with them effectively. “These are just a few things we will be addressing here at the conference,” he said.
Sanga pointed out that countries on the continent were not at their full potential when it came to civil registration and vital statistics The average coverage of births in some African countries was not even at 30%, he said, meaning that the situation of 70% of the people was unknown.
Yet on the same continent, there were clearly some countries that were getting things right, like Mauritius, where the coverage is 100%, with every birth and death recorded. “These are the things we are trying to tackle together as African countries so that we can try and learn from each other,” Sanga said.
The preparatory meeting of experts, which is a build up to the ministerial meeting, would help identify the areas where the bottlenecks are and the areas in most need of attention. However, Sanga was quick to acknowledge the results would not be reached overnight.
“Civil registration is a long term strategy…It takes maybe a minimum five to 10 years to get there if the right things are done today. If we start doing things from now, we will be able see the changes very quickly,” he said.
Home Affairs Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan said one of the main objectives of the conference was to ensure that as a continent, Africa developed a system of registration of its population and develops standards for gathering vital statistics.
“Without civil registration and vital statistics, you can’t have governments that are effective, which can meet the needs of its people. Also you can’t have countries that have proper democracy because when you have elections, how will you know if the citizens that are voting are indeed citizens of that country if you don’t have proper registration in place?” she pointed out.
From the South African perspective, Chohan said while the country had made progress in the area of civil registration and vital statistics, it was willing to learn more. “We also have our difficulties…. as much as we can proudly boast of some successes, we wish to learn from our counterparts. We can also impart knowledge. This is a conference where governments can share best practices, develop standards for cooperation amongst ourselves to ensure prosperity, security and development on the continent,” she said.