Completed Research

Reaching the Hard to Reach: A Case Study of Birth Registration in South Africa

University of Toronto

Since 2007, the Integrated Community Registration Outreach Programme organizes mobile provision of social services to South Africans living in less accessible areas. Internet-connected mobile units provide integrated services such as birth registration, distribution of birth certificates and distribution of grants for hard to reach populations.

The Hard to Reach

People and children whose births were not registered with South Africa’s Department of Social Development.

Key Takeaways

With this program, birth registration in South Africa increased from under 25 per cent in 1991 to 95 per cent in 2012. South Africa’s experience offers many important lessons that can be taken up in other late developing countries still struggling to improve birth registration.

  1. Birth registration is an integral part of the broader health care system. Increased access to health facilities in South Africa, specifically for mothers and children, has increased birth registration
  2. Birth registration is the first and most important step toward creating a child’s legal identity. Streamlining administrative processes has made it easier for parents to register their child’s birth and acquire a birth certificate
  3. Improvements in birth registration rates in South Africa are partly attributable to incentives created by complementary social support schemes, such as the Child Support Grant.
  4. South Africa employs a strategy of active reach, in which social services are delivered to those who are poor, geographically isolated or unaware of important government services.
  5. The South Africa case is a good example of how the norm of inclusive citizenship and the government’s commitment to the democratic constitution can facilitate birth registration.


This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Canada Research Chairs program and the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. The authors of this report would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to those we met and interviewed in South Africa, specifically those in government, the health services field, legal activists, social movement leaders, scholars, and all of the other inspiring people who are together transforming South Africa’s birth registration system

This research was vetted and received approval from the Ethics Review Board at the University of Toronto.