The Organization of American States (OAS) recently concluded an initiative to help its six OECS member countries scan some 2.5 million birth certificates dating back to the late 1800s.
With an investment of half a million dollars, it purchased equipment, developed software and trained data entry clerks in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
After years of languishing in a bureaucratic obscurity, the civil registries of the Eastern Caribbean are taking an important step into the information age.
The potential for this tool is great, but only if the civil registries integrate this technology into its everyday tasks of recording life events and issuing certificates. Despite technological advances, births, deaths and marriages are still recorded in large registry books. Those books take up a lot of room, require labor-intensive searches and gradually deteriorate over time. Many countries in the region still require the original signature of the registrar on a copy of a birth certificate. Legislative reforms need to catch up to technology as do administrative practices. The oversized registries, original signatures and manual procedures need to be replaced.
Government is increasingly expected to accomplish more with scarcer resources. Electronic databases of birth, death, marriage and divorces offer increased efficiency and lower costs. Ideally, civil registry offices should be located in hospitals in order to record births and deaths as soon as they occur and entered directly into the database. Electronically printed birth certificates should be phased in and eventually required to obtain a driver’s license or passport or register for school. These simple changes will provide for a cleaner, more accurate civil registry database.
The benefits would be numerous.
Vital statistics information, produced by the civil registries and virtually stored, can help provide social services to those who are entitled to it. It can increase the efficiency of land titling and help provide for cleaner voter rolls. In the Eastern Caribbean, the Multi-Purpose Identification Card would be made more secure with directly linked, up-to-date birth and death information. The aggregate information, duly updated to the last minute, can help Government decide where to build the next school or hospital or how much to invest in school lunches or vaccinations.
Civil registries are not static. People are born, die, marry and divorce every day of the year and these events need to be continuously recorded and amended. To keep up, civil registries need to do away with the paper.
Universal Civil Identity Program in the Americas
Department for Effective Public Management
Secretariat of Political Affairs
Organization of American States