Cook Islands births, deaths, marriages should be recorded digitally, advocates SPC-led report

 Cook Is CRVS degitalisation

From official statistics to passport applications, registering births, deaths, marriages and other life changes in the Cook Islands electronically would see huge benefits—say the Pacific Community’s experts and partners in civil registration and vital statistics. 

A proposed redesign of how key events like births, deaths and marriages are recorded in the Cook Islands has been put forward with publication of a new report advocating digital transformation and integration between public agencies in the nation and with New Zealand. 

The report Cook Islands: Assessment, analysis and redesign of the CRVS system encompasses a cradle-to-grave look at civil registration and vital statistics in the country, referring to the recording of births, adoptions, marriages, name changes, divorces and deaths, and their flow-on use in national statistics for evidence-based policy and decision-making. 

The joint work of the Pacific Community (SPC)’s Statistics for Development Division with Cook Islands’ authorities saw collaboration across justice, health, statistics, police, internal affairs, and the Prime Minister’s office. The initiative was funded from the Vital Strategies–Bloomberg Philanthropies Global Grants Program that supports health and statistical agencies in developing countries. 

Two goals, multiple organisations 

“Civil registration is fundamental to an individual’s legal identity,” explains Mr Jeff Montgomery, SPC’s Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Adviser, formerly New Zealand’s Registrar-General. 

“Opening a bank account, enrolling children in school, voting in elections, applying for a passport—all are examples of daily life that require an individual to have a legal identity. Birth certificates serve as official documentation of someone’s name, age and family relationships, while death certificates are crucial for those wrapping up the affairs of a loved one. 

“Then, registering individual births and deaths is also essential for understanding a population at a zoomed-out level—to make informed decisions about healthcare provision, the number of schools, everything else in the running of a country. 

“Every nation needs good systems for both of these administrative and statistical goals.” 

The report proposes a digitised civil registry as its key recommendation for the Cook Islands. This would enable new parents, and their midwife or doctor, to register births online—as well as the exchange of records with New Zealand to allow for faster, easier passports for Cook Islands nationals. 

Changes are also put forward for handling deaths, marriages, divorces and name changes. The proposals are forged from a series of online and in-country workshops in which all elements of current state were identified then mapped. 

“The Cook Islands have good registration rates of births and deaths,” says Mr Montgomery. “But processes remain mostly paper-based and, therefore, prone to human and handling errors. 

“There are no automated flows of data between organisations, which is time-consuming and error-prone for both citizens and government agencies. 

“Effective civil registration and vital statistics requires a range of partners to work together—it is an ecosystem. The overall proposal is to move from paperwork to more efficient digital platforms.” 

From proposals to practice 

The next step is for a paper to be prepared and submitted for the Cook Islands’ Cabinet to consider and implement the proposed initiatives. 

Better record-keeping and smoother passport applications are meaningful because Cook Islanders are mobile. While the Cook Islands has 15,000 inhabitants according to the Pacific Data Hub’s population dashboard, there are more than 80,000 of Cook Islands descent in New Zealand, according to its own 2018 census. 

“Pacific islanders in general, and Cook Islanders particularly, travel,” says Mr Montgomery. “Often, they are born in one country and live in another, moving for jobs, healthcare and education. In the near future, we are excited to be sharing further work we have done on civil registration interoperability in the Pacific—watch this space.”

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