Image by UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Michael Tsegaye
  • Discussion paper
  • 11 October 2019

Measuring the state of civil registration and legal identity

In this paper we propose an efficient new system to monitor digital civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) and legal identity systems.


Angharad Price, Bernard Sabiti, Bill Anderson , Martha Getachew Bekele

Sustainable Development Goal 16, target 9, aims to “provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.” There is a long road to travel to meet this target. The World Bank estimates that close to 40% of the eligible population in low-income countries does not have an ID, and, according to UNICEF, in over 50 countries less than half of the population have had their births registered. Furthermore, accurate data to substantiate these estimates is hard to come by. UNICEF’s data comes primarily from an ambiguous question in household surveys, and the World Bank’s global dataset relies on voter registration data obtained from election results.

Substantial progress is starting to be made to tackle this challenge. With the advent of affordable digital data capture many poorer countries have begun to install digital civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) and identity systems. New, more efficient, systems require new approaches to monitoring. In this paper we propose such an approach.

The Africa Programme for Accelerated Improvement of CRVS (APAI-CRVS) is playing a key role in speeding up and consolidating progress towards digital legal identity for all and its Fifth Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration will take place in Zambia 14–18 October 2019. DI is in Lusaka to present these proposals.

Over the past two decades household surveys have played a critical role in filling data gaps in countries where there were no alternatives. Most developing countries are now growing from strength to strength in their development of national registries and administrative data. These systems, by their nature, contain a built-in monitoring framework. Data gaps are diminishing. Progress may at times be slow, but it is steady, particularly in the case of civil registration and national identity. The time is ripe for monitoring to be owned, maintained and accounted for by those responsible for securing sustainable data infrastructures. This proposal is a contribution to this necessary step.


Photo: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Michael Tsegaye. A data validation expert registers births in Baherdar, Amhara.