Civil registration is the system by which a government records the vital events (births, marriages, and deaths) of its citizens and residents. The resulting repository or database has different names in different countries and even in different US states. It can be called a civil registry, civil register (but this is also an official term for an individual file of a vital event), vital records, and other terms, and the office responsible for receiving the registrations can be called a bureau of vital statistics, registry of vital records and statistics, registrar, registry, register, registry office (officially register office), or population registry. The primary purpose of civil registration is to create a legal document (usually called a certificate) that can be used to establish and protect the rights of individuals. A secondary purpose is to create a data source for the compilation of vital statistics.
The United Nations General Assembly in 1979 adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 16 of which requires countries to establish compulsory civil registration of marriages. Most countries have a legal requirement for relevant authority to be notified of certain life events, such as births, marriages and deaths. The first country to establish a nationwide population register was France in 1539, using the registers of the Catholic Church. Sweden followed in 1631, on the basis of a register drawn up by the Church of Sweden on behalf of the Swedish king.
The United Nations defines civil registration as "the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events pertaining to the population as provided through decree or regulation in accordance with the legal requirements of a country. Civil registration is carried out primarily for the purpose of establishing the legal documents required by law. These records are also a main source of vital statistics. Complete coverage, accuracy and timeliness of civil registration are essential to ensure the quality of vital statistics."
Vital events that are typically recorded on the register include live birth, death, foetal death, name, change of name, marriage, divorce, annulment of marriage, judicial separation of marriage, adoption, legitimization and recognition. Among the legal documents that are derived from civil registration are birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage certificates. A family register is a type of civil register which is more concerned with events within the family unit and is common in Continental European and Asian countries, such as Germany (Familienbuch), France, Spain, China (Hukou), Japan (Koseki), and North and South Korea (Hoju).
Additionally, in some countries, immigration, emigration, and any change of residence may require notification. A register of residents is a type of civil register primarily concerned with the current residence.