Civil registration was a subject of serious discussions at the just concluded fifth Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration which was held in Lusaka, Zambia.
The topic has become important to Africa’s economic and social development. It is at the core of the realization of the continent’s ambitions to eradicate poverty, achieve inclusive and sustainable development and respect for human rights.
The New Times’ James Karuhanga caught up with Josephine Mukesha, the Director-General of the National Identification Agency (NIA) who discussed the review of the Law governing Persons and Family and also explained why civil registration was important.
To start with, what do we mean by Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) and why is it important?
CRVS is very important as it is the basis for the identification of someone. Civil registration as defined by UN is the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events, such as birth and death, of the population in accordance with the law.
Today, there is more focus on birth and death because they are the key points in ensuring everyone is indeed identified and thus has access to rights and services they are entitled to either as citizens of a country or residents; refugees or foreign residents.
In Rwanda, we have nine vital events: birth, death, marriage, and divorce, annulment of marriage, guardianship, adoption, recognition, and legitimation.
So, from the civil registration point of view, the registration of these events allows their actors to get benefits including services they are entitled to. And from the vital statistics perspective, the timely and complete registration of these events allows for the extraction of vital statistics used as indicators used for planning, fact-based decision making, and policy formulation.
Speakers here have noted that there are gaps. What’s your assessment of the situation in Rwanda?
The CRVS assessment showed gaps in delays in the declaration of events at sector offices as stated in the current Law on Persons and Family where registration is done in front of the Civil Registrar. The assessment showed that notification was done at high rates; 93.7 percent in 2018.
However, timely registration is at 67 percent, within 30 days. The other gap was in the various systems capturing the same data in those venues. The reason for this difference has many causes: some citizens either do not know that they have to register at the sector or think that by doing the notification at the hospital they are done with the process. The other one is the need to request certificates. In Rwanda, registration is free of charge but the certificate is acquired at a fee. We see the number of those owning a certificate even lower than that of those registered.
How much does one have to pay for this certificate?
It is Rwf2,000 (within the country) or $15 abroad (in Rwandan embassies), for a birth certificate. The extract of a birth certificate costs 1,000 francs or $10 abroad.
Some people wait until it is requested to go and buy it; for example when the child starts school and it is needed for registration.
What do you think could be causing this reluctance to immediately or timely pay for a birth certificate? Is it, perhaps, because some find it too expensive?
No. It is also due to the lack of awareness about its importance.
I know Rwanda has a CRVS strategic plan for 2017-2022.
What’s the main mission therein?
The mission is to make every one count. So, it comes with the principle of a one-stop center; such that where the event occurs, we do all the processes – notification, registration, and certification so that we ensure that all the 93.7 percent we had at notification from health facilities actually go all the way up to registration and certifications by the time they leave the health facility. The other proposal is to bring the service closer to citizens and have registrations of events occurring in communities at the cell level. This will lead to timely registration because it will be done at the same time notification is done, thus leading to timely complete data.
According to your targets, as per the strategic plan, by 2022, you want to have timely and complete registration and certification. For births, the target is 95 percent, deaths 90 percent, marriages 100 percent, and divorces 95 percent. What is the reality today? Where are we?
Notification of births is at 93.7 percent but timely registration is at 67 percent and certification is much lower as per the statistics released in 2018.
What about the deaths then? Let’s look at the events, one by one...
Because we have deaths occurring in communities and most are not declared, there are statistics showing those declared only.
What about marriages?
Marriages are declared and done on time. It’s just that updating the system is the missing part. It is 100 percent at the Sector, only registration into the system is sometimes not done properly and this is what the digitalization of CRVS will bring by ensuring that one single system is used for registrations of civil events.
Is it the same scenario with divorces then?
No. Since divorces occur in court, the ruling is taken to the Sector for registration. Couples who want to finalize the process go to the Sector immediately but others delay and their civil status is not updated on time.
Regarding the law review process you recently started; what are those pertinent changes that you want to introduce in the 2016 Law Governing Persons and Family?
It is linked to the strategic plan goal of having a one-stop center system.
The proposed changes include extending the power of civil registrar at various venues; specifically in health facilities where some staff will be given the powers to register those events including births and deaths.
Similarly, at the cell level, there will be staff to register events occurring in communities to ensure everyone is registered on time.
Is the element of the one-stop center principle the only new introduction in the law?
By extending the power of a civil registrar to a health facility it means the registration process will be completed there. Parents will be leaving hospitals with their baby’s birth certificate. This will be the same for deaths in health facilities. However, those in communities, birth, and death certificates will be given by the cell. Usually, the burial permit is given by the cell executive secretary and thus when applying for this permit, the family will be able to get the death certificate as well and not have to go to the sector office again. Estimates show that we have almost 60 percent of deaths occurring in communities.
Do you also want to have everything automated?
Yes, the system will be automated from notification to certification and we are planning to issue digital civil certificates.
What will be the implication of all this to the national budget since, clearly, you have to train people, purchase equipment, conduct public sensitization, and so on?
The Government of Rwanda has invested in the development of the system. And we finished two modules of birth and death. It is done in Rwanda by a Rwandan company.
There is also support from the Global Financing Facility through the World Bank that supports the strengthening of CRVS activities in Rwanda.
Are you suggesting that it is already in operation?
There will be a training of users before the system is used. But the necessary tests are done to ensure the system complies with requirements. Tests are done to ensure the system is working according to specifications.
What we discovered when we were doing a systems assessment was that they were re-typing across multiple systems yet the data is held somewhere. What the new system is bringing is efficiency by integrating with other registries to avoid errors at registration and quicker process.
Charles Lufumpa, the AfDB’s Director of Statistics, stated that while significant progress has been made in Africa regarding CRVS, there remain considerable challenges to overcome. What are Rwanda’s main challenges?
One is the legal review but there is good progress to amend the current law on Persons and Family. The other is to interface all systems to allow better service delivery.
How about capacity issues regarding the use of CRVS systems?
There is training planned for all involved including health facilities and local government. Each group has specific content depending on their mandate including legal aspects and how to use the NCI-CRVS system.
How many hospital staff are you looking to train countrywide?
We have an estimate of 551 health facilities including private ones and then we will be training two members of staff per hospital. And the training will also be given to cells and sector offices. There are 2,148 cells and 416 sectors. The capacity building we have is one of the areas of support from the Global Financing Facility, (GFF), through the World Bank.
What are the challenges in the completeness of registration of vital events, especially the deaths occurring within the community?
This is about the codification of death. When registering death, the cause of death is a very important indicator as it guides policy formulation and health-related programs. In health facilities, a proper codification of causes of death is done and doctors are continuously trained.
But for those occurring within communities, there is still have a challenge because determining the cause of death and it’s underlying cause becomes challenging.
There is a pilot project that was done by the National Institute of Statistics where they trained health care practitioners who are using tablets to conduct the vital autopsy. It's like a questionnaire; after a family loses a person, a few days later they come back and through the questionnaire, and triangulation, the probable cause of death can be known. But it was piloted in 1,000 Cells.
The plan is to have a solution that covers all the cells in the country for a proper codification of causes of death occurring in communities.
Among the things I am really looking forward to during this conference is to hear how other countries overcome this challenge.
Have you picked any ideas from the presentations already done?
I spoke to somebody from Mauritius; because they have death registration at almost 100 percent. But for them, what they do is (make use of) the family doctor, since every family has a doctor, and this doctor follows up.
Can we replicate the Mauritius example especially considering the differences in demographics?
Different countries have different approaches. Together with all the stakeholders, we will decide on how to ensure this is done. The solution needs to be scalable and sustainable.