Well-functioning civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems are characterized by their continuity, permanence, and universality. These key principles are in line with the cyclical nature of vital events that are updated throughout our lives. For this reason, all groups of people benefit from a CRVS system that is continuous and permanent. A universal CRVS system, however, is particularly important to certain groups of a population – those often the most marginalized and underserved – as it sets the most humane and basic requirement of making civil registration services accessible to every person within the territory of a given country.
A universal CRVS system protects human rights by allowing every individual to access civil registration services that are necessary for establishing a legal identity and obtaining documents required to exercise rights and benefit from services provided in public and private sectors – such as health benefits and adequate medical treatment. Governments must provide civil registration services to all residents without any discrimination based on citizenship, nationality, gender, or any other ground in order to comply with their human rights obligations and the principle of universality.
Women are among the population groups that significantly benefit from registering vital events and obtaining identity documents. Starting from childhood, a girl’s proof of age through a birth certificate ideally protects her from child marriage, labor, trafficking, and exploitation; validates her enjoyment of social protections and entitlements; and enables her exercise of fundamental rights, including the right to health and education. As an adult, a woman can use marriage, death, and divorce certificates to exercise property rights and rights related to custody of minor children. An identity document, on the other hand, helps a woman prove her legal identity and enables and facilitates her access to essential services and opportunities including employment, ownership of property, and participation in social, economic, and political matters.
From a policy and governance perspective, women’s access to civil registration services is directly related to an efficient production of vital statistics which is crucial for governments to plan, monitor, and evaluate interventions that ultimately impact the health of different groups in a population. In reporting fetal deaths, for instance, a mother is the primary informant next to health facilities/professionals in the UN’s recommended order of priority for informants. The information she provides, including her date of birth, place of residence, and children born alive to her are highly important in registering the event itself (the foetal death) and generating vital statistics which will ultimately inform health system planning, resource prioritization, and improvement of healthcare services. Therefore, to ensure that vital statistics systems generate reliable data for public policy decisions and that women’s rights are protected, every CRVS system must ensure equal treatment of women and men in the registration of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces.
The essential nature of civil registration services also demands that CRVS systems exist and improve to be inclusive of all human beings whose rights to identity, marriage, health, education, etc. are protected under international human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Convention on Consent to Marriage; Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and the Global Compact for Migrants.