Despite awareness raising campaigns for the issue of birth certificates, as well as efforts at the legal and administrative reorganization of civil status registries in Cameroon, a large part of the population does not resort to civil status services.
The National Institute of Statistics indicates that the registration rate at birth of children under five, which had been declining continuously over the past 20 years, moving from 70 % in 2006 to 61 % in 2011 experienced a slight increase to 66% in 2014 at the national level .
This may be as a result of the amendment of the Law on civil status in Cameroon in 2011, which increased the legal timeline for birth registration from 30 to 90 days. The lowest registration rates are in the Far North region (42%) and South West region (55 %).
Considering the latest figures, one third of children are not registered at birth, and do not have birth certificates. The issue is all the more serious in rural areas where 48% of children under five are registered, than in urban areas (81% of children under five registered), and the poorest quintile is the most affected, with only 28% of registered births.
Yet, the civil status is a legal institution and the registration of births, marriages and deaths is compulsory, permanent and continuous as per the Law. Beyond its legal and statistical functions, civil status registration has an impact on development and security, which makes it a pillar in the process towards the country’s emergence by 2035.
An unregistered and unidentified person has no legal existence. The registration of
civil status events is therefore the sole means to determine and protect identities, citizenship and incidentally property rights and access to services.
Thus, the designing,implementation, monitoring and evaluation of national development policies and programs are closely related to the availability of a reliable system for the registration of vital events and to the production of ensuring statistics.
Indeed, the monitoring of various targets of the Sustainable Development Goals depend on the availability of reliable data on fertility, mortality and death causes, which may result from the exploitation of vital events registered continuously and appropriately.
As regards security, wars and the surge of terrorism and national and cross-border
criminality confer a security function to civil status events.
The security situation concerning Boko Haram attacks in the Far North Region of Cameroon and the ensuring movement of the populations, are a particularly strong motivation for the development of a new civil status registration system.
Despite the crucial importance of the issue, it appears that like in most African countries, the necessary attention has not always been drawn to the registration of civil status events and production of civil status statistics in Cameroon.
In addition, users do not show much interest in civil status services, because its importance is not well understood. Between a supply that is below standard and a low public demand, civil status registration systems are incomplete and unable to provide the required statistics for the design, implementation and monitoring of development policies and programs in Cameroon.
Institutional and legal framework for the digitization of the Civil Status Registry in Cameroon
According to George Elanga Obam ,Cameroon’s Minister of Decentralization and Local Development “ The Cameroon civil status rehabilitation strategic plan builds on the evaluation report of the civil status registration system and the establishment of Cameroon’s civil status statistics, following the recommendations of African Ministers in charge of civil status, to improve the quality of civil status services.
After identifying the strengths and weaknesses and analysing opportunities and threats of the Cameroon civil status system, this document offers solutions to establish a reliable, secure and complete civil status system throughout the national territory, according to the prescriptions
of the UN”.
“Even though the completion time-frame of the civil status reform is ten years, the proposed plan will last for five years (2018-2023) and shall aim at setting up basic infrastructure and institutional coordination to meet about 80% of needs, by transforming the civil status into an efficient instrument for individual identification that enables relating each person to the civil status events concerning them, a nationwide information system that provides information in real time.
Indeed, the general computerization of the system is no longer an option, but an obligation,as stated by the UN reference manuals. The new system shall be a tool for good governance, social stability and projection for the preparation, implementation and monitoring of State and Council policies and programmes .After the implementation of this plan, an exhaustive assessment will be conducted to evaluate progress made and what still needs to be done to deal with the most complex cases. This strategic plan is supplemented by a Priority Intervention Programme (PIP) in conformity with a three-year budgetary programming.”
In this situation, the Government of Cameroon, following the diagnosis of its civil status system, established the Cameroon Civil Status Rehabilitation Programme (PRE2C) and made the Africa Programme on Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (known as APAI-CRVS) a national priority.
The new system shall be a tool for good governance, social stability and projection for the preparation, implementation and monitoring of State and Council policies and programmes. It is also a precious source of data for national planning and the implementation of public policies.
The launching of the reform process started in 2007 with the approval of the first Priority Investment Programme whose implementation served as the basis in 2010 for the Cameroon.
The legal framework governing civil status in Cameroon has been amended by two
• Law No. 2011/11 of 6 May 2011 to amend and supplement certain
provisions of Ordinance No. 81/2 of 29 June 1981 to organize the civil
status and various provisions relating to the status of natural persons;
• Decree No. 2013/31 of 13 February 2013 to lay down the organization
and functioning of the National Civil Status Registration Office (BUNEC).
This Law amends certain important aspects of the national civil status system, particularly:- Special civil status registries that have become secondary civil status registries. They are attached to the main civil status registry of the Council of their area of jurisdiction. Nationality is introduced in the civil status data and compulsory information written on birth, marriage and death certificates are amended.
The 2013 Decree lays down the missions of BUNEC, namely supervision, regulation, control and evaluation of the national civil status system.
In addition to these two main instruments, there are ministerial circulars to lay down the functioning of the civil status system:
• Circular No. 1556/LC/MINATD/DAP/SDAA of 11 June 2012, relating to
the creation of secondary civil status registries;
• Circular No. 20/LC/MINATD/DAP of 3 January 2013, relating to the
registration code of civil status registries and the numbering of civil status
The document also builds on;
- the Convention on the rights of the child (1989);
• the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1992);
• the Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of the Child
and its action plan (1990);
• the recommendations of the last three Conferences of African Ministers in
charge of the registration of civil status events (2010, 2012, 2015);
• Cameroon’s 2035 Vision;
• the 2010-2020 Growth and Employment Strategy Paper.
Institutional civil status stakeholders
In a major capacity, the Ministry of Decentralization and Local Development is the administration responsible for the civil status policy.
Other institutional stakeholders include : the Ministry of Justice , the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of External Relations , the Ministry of Finance , the Ministry of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development , the Ministry of Social Affairs , the Ministry of
Basic Education and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family as well as the National Institute of Statistics (NIS),the National Agency for Information and Communication Technology,ANTIC,the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms,the General Delegation for National Security amongst others.The chnical and financial partners include UNICEF,German Technical Cooperation,GIZ,the European Union,the World Bank,the World Health Organization,the African Dvelopment Bank,the UN High Commission for Refugee amongst others.
Besides,associations representing the civil society contribute to reflections on the reform of the Organization of the civil status.
Cameroonian law provides for two categories of civil status registries: main civil status registries and secondary civil status registries.
Current civil status cartography indicates the existence of about 2,800 civil status registries. That is 45 main registries located in diplomatic missions and consular offices, 374 main registries located in Councils and City Councils, and about 2,400 secondary registries spread across the country.
Each City Council or Council has a civil status office responsible for registering births, marriages, and deaths in the corresponding paper registers. The mission of Diplomatic Missions or Consular offices that have been made civil status registries is to register birth, marriage, and death events that occur in the host country abroad.
Cameroonian nationals living abroad must obligatorily request for the registration or recording of civil status events to the Head of the Diplomatic Mission or Consular office. Secondary Civil Status Registries are created by an Order of the Minister in charge of regional and local authorities.
A Major Tool Towards Country’s Emergence by 2035
At the national level, the Strategic Plan is in line with Cameroon’s drive towards emergence by 2035. It is worth recalling that the 2035 vision of the Government is to make Cameroon an emerging, democratic country united in its diversity. This 2035 vision is broken down into two fundamental objectives: growth and employment.
The stated mission of the strategic plan is aligned with the strategic governance and management of the State, which is one of the major frameworks of the growth and employment strategy. At the sector level, this mission is divided in two objectives: to ensure a universal and greater respect for individual rights and publicliberties, and to strengthen the management of public affairs.
In addition, the Civil Status strategic plan strengthens the actions already implemented to promote this sector and the activities conducted by the Government, with the support of development partners and several associations and non-governmental organizations.
It shall therefore allow for greater mobilization of all stakeholders concerned by the issue of civil status events registration and the production of civil status statistics on the stakes raised by this problem in the country.
Its fundamental objective is to be able to register in the long run, all civil status events among the population, starting with major events (births, deaths, marriages,divorces) and to produce statistics of such events on this basis.
The current system of manual registration being unsatisfactory, non-harmonized and incomplete, the proposed transformation shall consist of a global service offer on the territory, which shall cover the registration of events, with homogeneous information technology tools in civil status registries, in collaboration with institutions providing data (hospitals, courts, consulates), including a gradual transmission of statistical bulletins to the National Institute of Statistics and a centralized storage of data at the National Civil Status Registration Bureau, BUNEC.
With regard to the demand for service by citizens, stumbling blocks observed, particularly in theregistration of deaths result in a reflection in order to improve the environmentof deaths (mortuaries, funeral transport, cemeteries, burial permit), in such waythat the modernized offer of civil status services is able to arouse an increase indemand by the population. The mission of the civil status is also to improve public demand, particularly through awareness raising, and bearing in mind the fact thatthe evolution of cultural factors is a long term process. Indicators of increase inthe rates of various civil status events registration shall be met throughout the plan implementation period.
The reform of the Cameroon civil status becomes a matter of priority, which should be translated into action through concrete actions by the Government, supported by civil society organizations, in order to implement a universal, continuous, compulsory, free, statistically useful and reliable civil status system. This is what justifies the preparation of this strategy, supplemented by an action plan.
With regard to service offer, the Cameroon civil status registration system is incomplete and
incapable in its current state, to provide the required statistics for the design, implementation and monitoring of public policies and development programs.
The strategy is aimed at establishing a complete Civil status system defined as universal, binding, on-going and confidential. This means a well-structured and coordinated civil status system, which is managed efficiently, is accessible and available,regularly funded, complete, reliable, rapid, dynamic and integrated, sensitive to development needs at all levels. All strategic initiatives shall have components ensuring sustainability.
Due to circumstances relating to cultural behaviours and infrastructures, civil status
registration problems are more severe within the community context, mainly in rural areas. In the cities, the response to the difficulties faced by the civil status shall be mostly effective through improved coordination between institutions.
Towards Complete Digitization
The declared mission of the Cameroon civil status rehabilitation plan is to provide a homogenous and complete public service offering legal identity and producing civil status statistics at the service of the population and public authorities, using efficient technologies, and abiding by principles of simple procedures and proximityof civil status services.
The basic values of the plan encompasses the values of the APAI-CRVS Pan-AfricanProgramme, underpinned by the principles of continuity and free civil status publicservice. The civil status is recognized as the common property of the Nation. Moreover, since coordination is the key to success, inter-service coordination shall promote teamwork and seek the most efficient synergies.
The“ United Nations manual “ Principles and recommendations for a civil status statistics system ( 2014) clearly states that, computerization is not an option, but an obligation for civil status reform:
Today, services that the registration system of civil status events has to provide to the population as well as the technological environment require the complete computerization of all registration operations and the production of civil status statistics.
The computerization of the registration of civil status events is even more crucial than the other functions carried out by the Government, given the increasing demand towards computerization. And thus, it corresponds to the development of what is known as the dematerialization of government procedures.
With the advent and massive use of the internet, the population expects the Government to offer the same applications in respect to service provision. The deployment of a new system, completely computerized, between main civil status registries and the BUNEC central site requires particular attention on buildings, energy supply and telecommunications.
The new system is designed to consider the individual based on a long-term vision, with a personal and unique identification number to which all civil status events, family ties, birth and marriageof the individual are attached. The registration process is designed to be closely coordinatedwith the services at the source of the data through computerized data exchangeforums notably between every hospital, the assigned civil status registry and the central system.
Engaging Local Communities
Particular attention is being paid to the projection of the civil status service towards communities through secondary registries, community workers and mobile teams in respect to the validation of communicated data and their security. The functional relationship model between main and secondary registries is yet to be established, as well as the mobility pattern for the projection of the service towards distant populations.
Cameroon plans to digitize 120,000 records of civil status documents in Yaoundé city municipalities between August 2020 and August 2021. This is the pilot phase of the implementation of digital archiving of civil status records which covers the Mfoundi division.
The initiative was on the agenda of a mission carried out on 16 March 2020 in some sub divisional councils of the Cameroonian capital.
The mission led by the Director General of the National Civil Status Registration Bureau ,BUNEC, Alexandre Marie Yomo, went to the Yaounde I, II and III municipalities to sensitize newly elected municipal magistrates about the project and the role they have to play in the process of modernizing the civil status file in Cameroon.
“To this end, contracts will be signed with municipalities to provide financial support and technical assistance,” Alexandre Marie Yomo explained. The project will be financed by the European Union. The city councils are required to find premises, quality staff “with the capacity for speed and endurance at work” and a generator.
Once the project is completed in Mfoundi, “we want to extend it to other divisions of the country, starting with the Mifi division in the West Region and that of Fako in the South-West region,” said the director-general of BUNEC. According to the BUNEC, about half of the 9 to 11 million records in Cameroon are unusable.
Positive fallouts expected from this strategic plan include;
• Legal guarantees and privileges for individuals including the protection
of personal data;
• Improvement of governance and Public administration services (identity
ties, elections, health, education), with sustainable institutional capacities
for the registration of civil status events and the establishment of civil
• Improvement of the registration of civil status events and the provision of
• Improvement of the production and use of health and civil status statistics;
• Quality and harmonized statistical information disseminated and
• Improvement of coordination between stakeholders from different sectors.
The financial needs of the strategic plan for the enhancement of the civil status system for the 2018-2022 five year period is estimated at 69.1 billion CFAF($112 million).. Based on the distribution ratio of 35% for the State, the percentage of the State amounts to 24.2 billion; and the contribution of Technical Financial Partners and international financial institutions stands at 44.9 billion CFAF (65%).
Of this amount the sum of 24,5billion(35.53%) frs is earmarked for computerization. Strengthening of the organization and functioning of the registration of civil status events and the production of vital statistics(20.2billion frs) which is 29.26% of the budget, improvement for the demand of civil status services (11.7 billion frs),17.02%, Production, dissemination and use of civil status statistics and monitoring/evaluation(5.6 billion frs) which is 8.2%, Strengthening of the institutional coordination and the role of BUNEC(6.3billion frs),or 9%, consolidation of the legal framework for the registration of civil status events and the production of vital statistics(378 million frs)or0,55 % and Sustained funding of the civil status system, (161 million frs).
*Aminateh Nkemngu is an award-winning journalist based in Buea, Cameroon with special interest in Research and Development reporting and communication.
This report has been produced with a grant from the Africa China Reporting Project managed by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,South Africa.