Speaking up for Asia’s invisible population

on July 1, 2015.


Recall the time you had to apply for a passport, driver’s license, job, or bank account. You are required to bring proof of identity, and more often than not, the most basic proof of existence would be your birth certificate. You probably know exactly where it is – tucked away in an envelope in a drawer, or perhaps a fireproof vault.
 
Or at least your mom knows where it is and how to get a copy from the government.
 
This is not the case for some 230 million children around the world under the age of 5 who have not had their births registered. Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) is not just about a piece of paper such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or even a death certificate—it’s also about a person’s legal identity, civil status, and right to be recognized as a citizen of a state.
 
The information in it (e.g., full name, birthdate, nationality of parents, and birthplace) can be valuable in accessing social services such as healthcare, education, and social protection, and have implications in political participation, property ownership, inheritance, and employment, among others.
 
First CRVS Ministerial Conference
 
Recognizing the high number of people from all over the world without birth certificates and recognition from the state, the first Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics took place at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok, November 24-28, with the theme “Get everyone in the picture”.
 
The CRVS Ministerial Conference was convened by UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNDP, and WHO; along with Asian Development Bank; Plan International; and other development partners. It brought together heads of government agencies to forge high-level political commitment for the improvement of CRVS systems. Each country has a range of agencies and authorities working on CRVS, such as the Ministry of Interior or Home Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, National Statistics Office and development partners.
Topics included: “The role of CRVS in preventing child marriage in the Asia-Pacific region”; “Innovations for CRVS”; “Civil registration in the context of emergencies, displacement and to prevent statelessness”; and “Key issues and perspectives for CRVS.”
 
Youth representation 
 
To speak up for the “invisible population” without birth certificates, a group of youth from Indonesia, People’s Republic of China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippines, and Bangladesh participated in the forum, thanks to the support of Plan International.
 
“My parents, both of them dying because of illness, weren’t able to endow us with enough money for education and life plans. But they were able to provide me my basic right—and that is to leave me with my birth certificate,” said Carlo, the youth representative from the Philippines.
 
“Now, I am celebrating 23 years of continued access to opportunities and realized I would have never finished my education, been employed as a teacher, and travelled outside my country if not for the document that represents my legal identity and nationality.”
 
Ways forward
 
The CRVS Ministerial Conference had three major outcomes: adoption of a Ministerial Declaration which delegates worked on for the whole week; endorsement of a Regional Action Framework on national targets and areas of action for accelerating civil registration and vital statistics systems by 2024; and the proclamation of an “Asia-Pacific CRVS Decade, 2015 to 2024.”
 
“[We are working] to find solutions as to how we can register the 7.5 million Filipinos who are not yet legally registered, and the 135 million unregistered children from the Asia and the Pacific,” Carlo said.
 
Carlo invites us to envision a better world: “Each citizen in my country has a valid and vital voice. What if each voice is counted and heard? Can you just imagine how much progress there will be if we all help one another?”

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