Demographic and Social Statistics

Civil Registration and Vital Statistics

Vital statistics and their subsequent analysis and interpretation are essential for setting targets and evaluating social and economic plans, including the monitoring of health and population intervention programmes, and the measurement of important demographic indicators of levels of living or quality of life, such as expectation of life at birth and the infant mortality rate. Social and economic sectors, including health, education, labour and employment, urban planning, finance and economic development, industry and trade, social insurance, environment, population, business, and commerce require solid and up-to-date statistics on levels and trends in fertility and mortality. The health sector depends on trustworthy data on levels, trends and causes of mortality to identify emerging health threats and high risk groups and provide the evidence base for selecting priority interventions and allocating resources.

Despite the importance of vital statistics, there is universal acknowledgement of the urgent need to improve their availability, timeliness and quality. With the view of strengthening technical capacity to contribute to the efforts in improving civil registration and vital statistics systems, UNSD aims to increase the knowledge of government statisticians, civil registration officials and other stakeholders about the international principles and recommendations for compiling, processing and disseminating vital statistics; and improve their capability in identifying gaps and challenges in applying international standards to improve their vital statistics system.

These activities originate in the UNSD mandate for training in civil registration and vital statistics, as per the International Programme for Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems, adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 1991.

Birth and Death Registration Completeness

Monitoring the status of civil registration and vital statistics for countries in the world is the first step to provide guidance and assistance to those that are in need.

The work of the United Nations Statistics Division to assist countries in improving their civil registration and vital statistics systems started in 1949, following the recommendations by the Statistical Commission at that time. Progress has been made ever since in most countries.

There are still deficiencies, however, in civil registration systems in many countries until this date. For example, only 73% of the countries, territories and areas register at least 90% of births occurred. Furthermore, for death registration, only 68% of the countries, territories and areas have at least 90% of deaths occurred.

Several sources are used to obtain the completeness rates of birth and death registration for more than 230 countries and areas. The primary source is the "Quality of vital statistics obtained from civil registration" page on the United Nations Demographic Yearbook Vital Statistics Questionnaire. Source of information also includes United Nations Statistics Division workshops that have been conducted in the past, when this information was obtained from country representative(s), either from the National Statistical Office or the Civil Registration Authority attending the workshop. When information was not available from these two sources, UNICEF Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS), Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) and/or the World Health Organisation (WHO) data are used.

Availability of vital statistics

The availability of reliable, up-to-date and continuous vital statistics depends on the level of development of civil registration systems. Vital statistics is not always available for all countries in the world. For some, basic birth and death statistics can only be obtained from population censuses and sample surveys, which tend to suffer from random errors, recalling errors, and lack of continuity.

For up-to-date availability of live births and deaths statistics submitted by countries to UNSD, as well as the data source for obtaining those statistics, please visit UNData.

Standards and Methods

The United Nations produces a wealth of methodological guidelines on civil registration and vital statistics.

Global Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Group

The Global Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Group is a group of international and regional organizations coming together to forge stronger alliances in the area of civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS). With growing recognition of the value of CRVS to human rights, good governance, and development planning, monitoring and evaluation, there has been renewed interest in strengthening national CRVS systems. CRVS is also emerging as an essential underpinning of the 2030 development agenda. The Group aims, among others, to strengthen national CRVS and related systems through coordination and collaboration on global and regional initiatives and exchange of information.

The initial (2014) terms of reference were revised by the Group in 2016 in order to better harness the strength of its Members and respond to current global demands (See original and current terms of reference).

Knowledge Base

This Knowledge Center documents and disseminates United Nations methodological guidelines, research articles and country practices and activities in the area of civil registration and vital statistics. It aims at facilitating the international exchange and sharing of knowledge and information, as well as provision of guidance to countries, and monitoring progress made on civil registration and vital statistics.

The Knowledge Center is a searchable database that contains documents on civil registration and vital statistics guidelines, demographic methods, and development of civil registration and vital statistics in various countries.

Technical Report

The technical report on status of civil registration and vital statistics systems describes country practices in registering vital events and producing vital statistics from various data sources.

The technical report features areas such as organisation of the civil registration system, organisation structure of the vital statistics system, status of civil registration and vital statistics system in the country, use of population censuses and sample surveys as sources of vital statistics and availability of vital statistics.

The major sources of data for the technical report is the proceedings of the United Nations Workshop on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics, including the questionnaires completed by countries participants, the country presentations and status reports as well as the exchange of information between UNSD staff and country representatives during the workshop.

Other sources include technical reports, publications and websites on civil registration and vital statistics published by national civil registration authorities and national statistical offices.

Information on the availability of national vital statistics is obtained from the United Nations Demographic Yearbook data collection system.

The technical report prepared thus far is:

Feasibility study to accelerate the improvement of civil registration and vital statistics

As part of the activities of the International Programme for Accelerating the Improvement of Vital Statistics and Civil Registration Systems, adopted in 1991 by the Statistical Commission, studies are carried out in selected countries to review and evaluate the feasibility of achieving the International Programme goals related to increasing the civil registration completeness, improving the quality and timeliness of information collected and consequently, generating and disseminating comprehensive and reliable vital statistics.

The study covered the following information: (1) demographic information in the country; (2) current status of civil registration and vital statistics system in the country – in terms of the existing administrative infrastructure, legal framework, procedures for recording and transmitting information to Registrar General in the country, main obstacles and weaknesses and possible solutions; and (3) national strategy that would establish an accelerated and sustainable programme to improve the civil registration system in the country in short and medium term.

The study is published for three countries and available online for:

International Institute for Vital Registration and Statistics (IIVRS) Technical papers (Last updated: April 2014)

A collection of technical papers prepared by IIVRS, from late 1970s to end of 1990s. Go to individual pages for papers published in the corresponding period:

International Institute for Vital Registration and Statistics (IIVRS) Technical papers - 1980s

International Institute for Vital Registration and Statistics (IIVRS) Technical papers - 1990s

Legal identity

Legal identity is defined as the basic characteristics of an individual's identity. e.g. name, sex, place and date of birth, conferred through registration and the issuance of a certificate by an authorized civil registration authority following the occurrence of birth. In the absence of birth registration, legal identity may be conferred by a legally recognized identification authority. This system should be linked to the civil registration system to ensure a holistic approach to legal identity from birth to death. Legal identity is retired by the issuance of a death certificate by the civil registration authority upon registration of death.

UN Legal Identity Task Force

Inspired by the Secretary-General's determination to tackle the global problem of statelessness (affecting more than 10 million people worldwide), but also noting the wider issue of lack of legal identity, the Secretary-General's Executive Committee, in January 2018, mandated the Deputy Secretary-General to convene "UN entities to develop, in collaboration with the World Bank Group, a common approach to the broader issue of registration and legal identity...". To operationalize the decision of the Executive Committee, an inter-agency coordination mechanism - the UN Legal Identity Agenda Task Force (UN LIA TF) - was established in September 2018. UN LIA Task Force is co-chaired by DESA, UNDP and UNICEF, and composed of 13 UN agencies who are active in the role of legal identity, civil registration and vital statistics.

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