Functioning birth registration systems are lacking in most African countries

Without adequate civil registration of births we cannot count people to make them count in efforts towards the end of poverty

Civil registration of births is essential for both statistical and administrative purposes. The data collected is needed to determine population size and understand demographic trends. It is also important for policy making and planning, for example to plan regional health services based on accurate data on the number of people in a region.

Without strong civil registration we cannot know exactly who and where people are, as is the case in many sub-Saharan countries.

Development Initiatives has conducted some initial research into birth registration coverage of civil registration systems in 55 African countries. A fifth of countries (12/55) has a functional birth registration system, defined as birth registration covering over 75% of all births. One third of these countries are north African countries (Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria).

Almost one third (16/55) have an operational system for birth registration, with coverage estimated between 40% and 75%.

The majority of countries do not appear to have official registration systems in place, or have weak and unreliable systems. Almost half of countries (27/55) have weak or incomplete systems, meaning that less than 40% of births are estimated to be officially registered. These are mainly sub-Saharan countries.

There is need for a data revolution to sustainably improve data systems for collecting vital statistics, including birth data. Investments in civil registration systems, and infrastructure to store and share data, are needed so that we can count people and make people count.  Efforts are already underway to improve civil registration. In February 2015,  African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration committed to accelerate progress on civil registration-based vital statistics in the Yamoussoukro Declaration.

Another key goal for a data revolution and national systems is to ensure that data is accessible. Indeed, the data collected through our research excludes information which may be held in hard copies by governments, but are not accessible online.

For more information on the research process and on the Data Revolution, see Bill Anderson’s Data Blog Quantifying the challenges facing the Data Revolution in Africa: A first attempt.



Our research assessed birth registration coverage of civil registration systems in 55 African countries.

The only centralised databases available on birth civil registration are UN-related sources and take survey data into account. Surveys are not always reliable sources to assess the completeness of birth registration, depending on the methodology used to collect them. We therefore performed a desk review to estimate birth registration coverage in civil registration systems. The following words were used as search terms: national demographic reports, statistic office birth registration coverage, *name of country concerned* birth registration coverage.

We assume that information found on governments’ official websites, such as national statistics office websites, are more reliable. When no information was found, however, we relied on international organisations or newspaper sources. If contradicting information was found, in the case of Burkina Faso for instance, the methodology stated in the government reports was taken as more reliable. The information found is not for the same year depending on when governments or international organisation published their latest reports.

Research by Rosanna Collins and Manon Simeon under the direction of Bill Anderson.


World Bank, Building Capacity for Civil Registration

World Bank and WHO, 2014, Global Civil Registration and Vital Statistics United Nations, 2015, The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development United Nations, 2010, World Population and Housing Census Programme

Development initiatives analysis based on a wide range of sources that can be found here.