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.