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Vital records are records of life events kept under governmental authority, including birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates. In some jurisdictions, vital records may also include records of civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Various European countries are members of an International Commission on Civil Status which provides a mutually recognized convention on the coding of entries appearing in civil status documents, with common codes and translation tables between the language of the member states. They also provide an English unofficial translation.
In the fields of Records Management and Archival Science the term vital record is used to mean "records, regardless of medium, which are essential to the organization in order to continue with its business-crucial functions both during and after a disaster. They need not be permanent, might be active or inactive, originals or copies."
Note that only the life events meaning is restricted to government; the records management meaning in this article applies to both government and non-government organizations.
In low-income countries, such as Brazil, vital statistic systems have shown a 56% underreporting of infant mortality rates. The results of an ethnographic study conducted by researcher Marilyn K. Nations and Mara Lucia Amaral point to a lack of cultural understanding as the main cause of inaccurate data. Firstly, government authorities are often isolated from these experiences of death. Moreover, reporting deaths often jeopardizes the family’s future subsistence as they rely heavily on government benefits received for each child. Low income families also cannot afford to pay the fees associated with reporting deaths and other indirect costs such as loss of time having to go to the city to register the death. As a result, the data recorded in vital records are often skewed. To overcome this problem, methods of gathering mortality data need to have an awareness of cultural meanings and knowledge of local beliefs.
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