20.09.2021 Article

Civil Registration System In Ghana: Coverage And Data Quality, Challenges And Recommendations

By Gabriel Ananya
Civil Registration System In Ghana: Coverage And Data Quality, Challenges And Recommendations
LISTEN SEP 20, 2021

A civil registration system is a system of data collection where continuous data is collected on vital events. These vital events may include birth, death, marriages, divorce, etc. According to Pollard, Yusuf, and Pollard (1974), civil registration refers to "the continuous and permanent, compulsory recording of the occurrence and the characteristics of vital events primarily for their value as legal documents as provided by law and secondarily for their usefulness as a source of statistics”. Pollard and his colleagues (1974) introduced the dimensions of permanency, compulsion, and legality to the civil registration system. This means that the registration should not be something that cannot be traced few years after it is collected and it must be by soft compulsion mostly my law which addresses the legality of it. In Ghana, the civil registration system is attended to by the Births and Death registry (BDR). Even though the name appears to concentrate on birth and death they also see to the registration of marriages and divorces backed by the Marriage Act of 1884-1985 CAP 127. In the performance of their duty as prescribed by the birth and death Act, Act 301 of the birth and death registry of 1965, they somethings work with other institutions like the courts and religious bodies. Even though the BDR has been doing well there are several challenges that they face. So, for this write-up, the coverage and quality of the data collected by the BDR of Ghana would be examined as well as the challenges they face and make some possible recommendations for reforms.

The civil registration system in Ghana by the provision of the 1965 Act has an appreciable administrative coverage with central, regional, and district offices. However, the lapses in census data collection place a lot of demand on the civil registration system of Ghana to capture vital information of people that census tend to sideline due to their status, location, or traditions (Peters, 2016). The magnitude of this responsibility goes beyond having administrative coverage. There is a need for coverage at the community level so that the best of data is collected. The coverage of data is closely linked to the quality of data even though many other factors may contribute to quality. The BDR however, should be recommended for the introduction of community volunteers as part of efforts to improve data capture but these community volunteers are not in every district. As of 2015, 126 communities have what the BDR call community population registers which help to capture vital data (Ghana Statistical Services et al., 2015). Fobil et al., (2011), have also noted that the registry has employed registrar assistants and volunteers to help improve death registration at the community level. Also, the Marriage Act of 1884-1985 CAP 127, does not have coverage like the births and deaths and this is because some institutions such as the courts that are to help the registration of marriages and divorce are not available in all districts. Currently, in Ghana there are additional districts and the above reason may cast doubts on the availability of these in these institutions there. The second component of the coverage is directly linked to the quality of data. The content of data collected by the BDR even though appreciable it could have been way better. Birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates need to have certain vital characteristics such as date and place of occurrence, date, and place of registration, medical or officiating officers, and others (Pollard, Yusuf and Pollard 1974), these and many details have to be filled properly to make content coverage complete but most of these pieces of information are not available because third persons normally do the registration or it takes too much time for registration to be done. These happenings affect the quality of data very much. So even though comparatively the coverage of the civil registration is better than that of some Africa countries such as Ethiopia which is at 7% (Gizaw, 2020), there is much more to be done to improve coverage and quality.

The lapses in the coverage and quality of the data in the Ghanaian civil registration systems can be attributed to the challenges faced by the civil registration system. One of these challenges is inadequate resources- human, financial, infrastructural/equipment. The civil registration system in Ghana faces the challenge of resources in terms of personnel, budget allocations, and infrastructure. In terms of human resources, the BDR has limited personnel manning the various offices. As of 2014, the BDR in Ghana had 275 staff members with 1393 volunteers (Ghana Statistical Services et al., 2015) this is woefully inadequate to capture the vital information that happens in the population. Aside from the number of human resources, the quality of the human resource is also a challenge. The quality in terms of knowing and understanding the relevance of the data collected in that outfit so that the few collected would be of high quality is a challenge. In terms of budgetary allocations, the BDR is not well-financed and it can be traced to the magnitude of responsibility in the mother ministry who turns to reduce budgets sent to the BDR to attend to other agencies. This affects the operations of the BDR at the national level and trickles down to the lowest levels. The BDR may from time to time get assistance from donors but these are towards specific activities (Ghana Statistical Services et al., 2015). The inadequate budgetary allocations make it difficult for the BDR to prosecute its plans. The BDR lacks the requisite infrastructure to help the work effectively and efficiently. Some of the districts do not have adequate office space to house the staff and their logistics. Some do not even have basic logistics like computers to work with. It is very surprising that in this era of technology avalanche some of the offices in charge of vital registration still operate manually. This feeds into the errors made in the data collection hence affects the quality of data. These combine to make monitoring and evaluation difficult since data sometimes are not available or not prepared in time. For the above problems to be solved the BDR must set standards in recruiting staff members so that qualified persons could be employed. The financial challenges can be reduced when the BDR are allowed to retain a percentage of the charges they make. Also, the government must prioritize the civil registration system to give it the necessary support it requires to operate.

Secondly, the civil registration system in Ghana is challenged by cultural and religious factors. Some cultural and religious practices make it difficult to capture vital information among the population. In cases where they are captured, there is a tendency that there would be an error in the data. For instance, the Islamic religion does not make room for the dead to be kept for a long time before burial so they tend to bury their death almost immediately. When the dead are buried, the family and loved ones want to try as much as possible to move on and forget the death so there is no or inadequate motivation to register that death. In cases where there are community volunteers, some might not even hear about the death. Also, in some cultures, they tend to move their dead to their hometowns so there is a tendency that even when the death is registered at the hometown, that data is not accurate since the death did not happen there. Also, in Ghana, there is a conventional cultural practice where people move to stay with their mothers during the last trimester of pregnancy or few months to their delivery with the intention that the mothers would take care of them. This movement tends to affect the registration of the child when born. In some cases, the child would be registered in a district that the parents do not live there and when they are born in places that are far from registration points there is a high possibility that they would not register the child. This challenge can be minimized if the center of registration is brought to the doorsteps of the people as an incentive to register and also people are educated on the need to do some of these things.

In addition, the civil registration system is challenged by legislation. The legislation that gives the legal backing to the operations of the BDR in Ghana are too old and requires an amendment, that is why it is good news to hear that there is a strategic plan submitted to the Ministry of Finance for onward transmission to the cabinet (Ghana Statistical Service, 2018). The challenge the legislation presents is that it makes provisions that do not reflect current realities hence making work difficult. The legislation governing the civil registration system in Ghana leaves a gap between the BDR and other important institutions such as health facilities. The health facilities are places where people are born and some die so there must be an integration of the data of the facilities with the BDR. The assessment report by the Ghana Statistical Service on the civil registration notes these challenges: "The health facilities that play a critical role in the safe delivery of the child is given no role in the registration process, as there is no provision for notifiers". Even though some of the health facilities are used for registration this arrangement is not binding by law. This can be addressed when a second look is taken at Act 301 (1965) so that it is reviewed to reflect current realities and trends.

Lastly, the civil registration system is faced with the challenge of civil registration literacy. A number of the population in the country are not informed, educated, and communicated about the need to register vital events. Many do not know it is not just a civic responsibility but something that can be beneficial to them since it helps shape policies. When people do not know that it is their responsibility to make sure that relevant events are registered with the appropriate authorities then it could be difficult to have them register them. In the same way, if they do not know the benefits or relevance of registering vital events to the country and themselves there wouldn’t be any motivation to get these events registered. These challenges exist because sensitization and massive education on the relevance of it have been on the low. On the part of BDR, the pressure on the budget makes it difficult for some of these things to be done. So to inform people about the need they must be a concerted effort to educate the populace through various means for them to appreciate the need to register vital events. Also, incentives for registration can be given to encourage people to register. The current incentives such as free child registration before age 1 need to be drummed home so people get to know while exploring other incentive avenues to encourage people to register.

In conclusion, the civil registration of system in Ghana even though has been faced with several challenges such as the number and quality of personnel that they have, the money to work with, believes and practices among the people, the laws of civil registration and the awareness of the population about civil registration issues, Ghana remains one of the countries that are doing well in terms of civil registration in Africa. A 2017 United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund document identified Ghana as the only country in Africa that has more than 6 months of a legal obligation to register births, and these are positive signs. However, there must be a deliberate attempt to resource the institutions in charge of civil registrations in Ghana while amending the laws to address current realities and fix gaps.


  • A H Pollard, F. Y. and G. N. P. (1974). Demographic Techniques (Third Edit). Pergamon Press.
  • Fobil, J. N., Aryee, E., Bilson, F., May, J., & Kraemer, A. (2011). A review of the structure and function of vital registration system in Ghana: Towards improvement in mortality data quality for health policy analysis. Journal of Public Health in Africa, 2(1), 16–21.
  • Ghana Statistical Service. (2018). Standard Operating Procedures for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics.
  • Ghana Statistical Services, UNICEF, UNDP, & UNFPA. (2015). Civil registration and vital statistics system in ghana. July.
  • Gizaw, M. E. (2020). The status, challenges and opportunities of civil registration and vital statistics in Ethiopia: a systematic review. International Journal of Scientific Reports, 6(5),


  • Peters, B. G. (2016). Civil Registration and Vital Statistics as a Tool to Improve Public Management. Inter-American Development Bank, IDB-DP-473(August), 1–29.
  • United Nations Children’s Fund, A Snapshot of Civil Registration in Sub-Saharan Africa, UNICEF, New York, 2017.

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