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  • Report
  • 27 March 2020

Digital civil registration and legal identity systems: A joined-up approach to leave no one behind: Chapter 5

Conclusions and recommendations


It is now well recognised that a complete and efficient civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system is both the foundation of an inclusive, robust and trustworthy national statistics system and also the first step towards providing people with a legal and secure identity.[1] With this recognition, there is also a growing global consensus that, to achieve legal identities for all, governments and donors will need to adopt holistic and interoperable approaches.

With the evidence of identity provided by civil registration, people are better equipped to access education, health services, social protection and employment, to open a bank account and buy or sell assets such as land. CRVS is fundamental to women’s empowerment, increasing independent control over property, inheritance and family relationships. Children who have been registered are better protected from early marriage, child labour and exploitation. The comprehensive nature of a well-functioning civil registration system, which records every birth and every death, means that no one can be invisible, and policymakers can see the ‘universe of need’. Data from CRVS can then be paired with administrative data on health, education and other critical sectors to help plan, deliver and monitor basic services and basic rights.

Analysis of birth registration data collected from household surveys illustrates that there are significant gaps between the progress of those who are most likely to be left behind and everyone else. The poorest 20% of the population who experience multiple disadvantages resulting from geographic remoteness, low education levels and the impact of recurrent crisis and civil unrest are often not counted and remain invisible to official statistics systems. These intersecting inequalities indicate that achieving universal coverage of birth registration in low income countries in order to leave no one behind is not just a matter of putting effective administrative practices and technology in place. Without improvements to access, education and poverty itself, registry offices will struggle to establish satisfactory communications and processes to deliver the results they seek to the population they serve. The problem is multi-dimensional and therefore requires a joined-up solution that covers better targeting of resources, more coordination between development, humanitarian and peace actors and global advocacy to make the case for long-term investment in sustainable, digital CRVS systems.

If comprehensive civil registration for all is to be achieved, both governments and donors need to ensure that resourcing – in particular at a sub-national level for education – is better targeted towards the poorest regions with the worst educational outcomes. While better targeting on its own will not eliminate the inequality, it is a necessary enabling factor for faster progress in the populations most likely to be left behind. It is clear that maintaining comprehensive and robust civil registration systems in contexts of recurrent crisis and civil unrest is an ongoing challenge; and in these situations, the role of actors across the development, humanitarian and peace sectors is crucial. Harmonised approaches could form the basis of plans to deliver sustainable and resilient civil registration systems in protracted crisis contexts. It is also clear that the ongoing development and digitisation of foundational civil registration systems that are linked to digital identity systems requires a new longer-term approach to investment that goes beyond the traditional funding cycles. The case for long-term investments in digital registration systems that are led by national treasuries and supported by donors needs to be promoted through global advocacy. The Bern Network on Financing Data for Development is well positioned to build the case for the long-term investment that civil registration systems require.[2] TheWorld Data Forum in 2020[3]presents a unique opportunity to develop the concrete commitments needed to mobilise domestic and international resources and facilitate a joined-up solution covering digital CRVS and legal identity systems.

Digital CVRS systems are increasing being adopted in developing countries. This underlying trend in some of the world’s most challenged economies – towards digital data capture at the point of registration and the production of vital statistics from national databases that are dynamically fed from local registry offices – offers an opportunity to better monitor registration data across the world to access those at risk of being left behind. While household survey data provides some direction to inform long-term investment, it does not give a complete picture. A monitoring system that is derived directly from civil registration and identity management systems would be more timely, accurate and detailed than survey data. It would also empower national implementing agencies, as they would have ownership of and be accountable for the monitoring. Case studies have shown that the production of vital statistics, even from incomplete civil registration systems, is valuable – as the data can be used to inform where improvements in quality and coverage are needed, while the production of the data develops capability and expertise to produce better statistics. It is crucial that this data is used to enable action by those delivering basic services, so that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are met by 2030, not just monitored. Universal digital registration is not only about identifying dispossessed communities that are being left behind – it is about empowering those communities through better access to and delivery of services.


  1. Global advocacy needs to make the case for long-term investments in digital civil registration systems, led by national treasuries and supported by donors. The Bern Network is positioned well to leverage the opportunity the World Data Forum in 2020 presents to build this case.
  2. Vital statistics should be produced directly from registration systems, even if those systems are incomplete, as the data can highlight underperforming areas and the process of production can develop the capacity needed to produce better statistics.
  3. Monitoring statistics should be derived from civil registration and identity management systems in order to drive efforts to meet SDG 16.9 (“provide legal identity for all by 2030”).
  4. Pathways to sustainable, interconnected foundational data systems – civil registration, education and health – need to be prioritised by all those working to leave no one behind.


  • 1
    United Nations, 2019. United Nations Strategy for Legal Identity for All, United Nations Legal Identity Agenda: Concept note developed by the United Nations Legal Identity Experts Group. Available at: http://apai Nations Strategy for Legal Identity for All - COM5 version.pdf - overlay-context=CRS
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