The African continent will on Monday 10 August commemorate the third Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Day. The fourth Conference of of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration, that was held in December 2017 in Nouakchott, Mauritania, declared 10 August as the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Day. Not only did the conference of ministers inaugurate this day by making this declaration, but also highlighted the importance of member states to put in place effective registration systems and observance of this important day.
In 2020 the CRVS Day is marked under the heavy storm of the Covid19 pandemic ravaging not only the continent but the whole world. The theme chosen for this year is, “Civil Registration and Vital Statistics: An Essential Service for Monitoring and Mitigating the Impact of Emergencies.” It is a pertinent theme that reminds governments and member states that reliable and accurate figures or statistics can make an enormous difference in times of emergencies and calamities or pandemics like Covid19. They also ensure that authorities have essential information necessary for planning, implementation and monitoring.
One crucial civil registration activity that needs highlighting, is birth registration. In South Africa, birth registration is taken for granted as it has not only been common practice of our system for a long time but is a legal obligation as well. Experience from many other countries has however, shown that birth registration is not a common practice and there is a critical gap in establishing the legal existence of a child because many have not been registered at birth. According to a UNICEF 2019 Birth Registration Report, there are 166 million children under the age of 5 or 1 in 4 children of the same age group whose births have not been recorded. The same report further informs us that 87% of these unregistered children are found in South Asia and in our Sub-Saharan Africa Region.
The report paints an even grimmer picture of 237 million children under the same age group of five having no birth certificates. What is of concern is that from similar experiences or situations, children can easily become invisible and rendered vulnerable as they lose out on their rights because of lack of documentation. Unicef argued reminds us that “Society first acknowledges a child’s existence and identity through birth registration. The right to be recognized as a person before the law is a critical step in ensuring lifelong protection and is a prerequisite for exercising all other rights.” For the Church, it is therefore important for basic rights like documentation that give access to many other rights, to be vigorously protected and promoted. Such rights are important as they promote Human Dignity which according to our Catholic Social Doctrine, is one of the most fundamental if not the fundamental principle.
The Church is at the same time concerned that despite the Constitutional right and court ruling for all children to have access to education, many learners in South Africa still experience obstacles in accessing basic education because of lack of proper or no documentation. The situation is often so for migrant and some refugee children. To mitigate such undesirable situations, the Church call on all member states to ascertain proper universal birth registration irrespective of nationality or legal status of parents. Children cannot be denied access to education because She views education of children as an integral part of the development of a human person in the spirit of the 1967 Populorum Progressio (“On the Progress of Peoples”).
The Church call on States to be mindful of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 16. 9 and SDG 17.9) that allude to providing legal identity for all, including birth registration. It also calls for, not only the building of statistical capacity needed but also strengthening civil registration systems that will produce essential indicators including birth registrations. These as it has been argued before and in the SDGs, are foundational for achieving not least, sustained human development.
If therefore, there is no legal proof of identity, children are left out and consequently, in many cases, end up being more vulnerable in many ways including statelessness. It is for this reason in support of the SDGs that the Church calls on governments, states and regional bodies to make sure that no child is born, or remain stateless.
On the occasion of the third African Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Day, the Church wish to encourage member States and governments to increase their capacity of civil registration systems as that will hopefully ascertain that there is no exclusion of any human person from accessing their fundamental and human rights. This should also include the migrants and refugees as they too, carry the same intrinsic human dignity like everyone else.
God Bless the work and efforts that have been done so far in to achieve the common good of all.
+ Archbishop Buti Tlhagale OMI
SACBC Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees
For more information: Sr Maria de Lurdes +27 79 167 2928