A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common censuses include agriculture, business, and traffic censuses. The United Nations defines the essential features of population and housing censuses as "individual enumeration, universality within a defined territory, simultaneity and defined periodicity", and recommends that population censuses be taken at least every 10 years. United Nations recommendations also cover census topics to be collected, official definitions, classifications and other useful information to co-ordinate international practice.
The word is of Latin origin; during the Roman Republic the census was a list that kept track of all adult males fit for military service but now enumerates all those resident in a country. The modern census is essential to international comparisons of any kind of statistics, and censuses collect data on many attributes of a population, not just how many people there are but now census takes its place within a system of surveys where it typically began as the only national demographic data collection. Although population estimates remain an important function of a census, including exactly the geographic distribution of the population, statistics can be produced about combinations of attributes e.g. education by age and sex in different regions. Current administrative data systems allow for other approaches to enumeration with the same level of detail but raise concerns about privacy and the possibility of biasing estimates.
UN, Myanmar Agree on Support for First Census Since 1983
NAY PYI TAW – At the invitation of the Government of Myanmar, the United Nations will provide technical assistance and help mobilize financial support for the country’s first census in 31 years, under an agreement signed today in the nation’s capital. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Myanmar’s Vice President Sai Mauk Kham witnessed an exchange of letters signed by their representatives, setting out principles for conducting the proposed 2014 population and housing census in accordance with international standards.
Speaking at the signing, the Secretary-General said he was “very encouraged by the Government’s strong commitment to the project”, and urged donors to support it.
The Government is developing census plans with support from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, including expertise on listing households, making enumeration maps, training enumerators, setting up information technology infrastructure, processing data, and analysing and disseminating the results.
Under-Secretary-General Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, presented a letter to U Khin Yi, the Minister of Immigration and Population, stating that the census “will provide important benchmark data for national development planning and assessment, including on the impact of the launched reforms”, and facilitate donor support of development priorities.
Mr. Nambiar’s letter stressed that a credible census would need to adhere to several key principles:
- Updated laws are needed to define responsibility, set the scope and timing, secure funding, and oblige enumerators to report accurately and the public to cooperate. Confidentiality must be guaranteed to ensure cooperation.
- To ensure the census is universal and “inclusive of all national races”, enumerators must have unimpeded access to all regions of the country.
- The census will need a well-structured administration that pools resources from various national institutions.
- The country should create a consultative body involving local and national government agencies, NGOs, community representatives and professional associations.
- A national information campaign will need to inform the public about the census objectives, content and methods, and their rights and obligations.
- Global standards for census taking, approved by the United Nations Statistical Commission, must be followed.
U Khin Yi signed a letter in response confirming the Government’s commitment to these principles.
The Secretary-General observed that training people to conduct the census will be challenging, given Myanmar’s lack of recent experience. Another challenge will be to gain access to the whole country. “I hope that current and future ceasefires will make this possible. The involvement of minorities and civil society will be crucial,” he added.
Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham said the 2014 census is a priority for Myanmar and thanked the Secretary-General for his support. He said the Government “will cooperate closely with UNFPA to oversee the quality of the census so that the result will be accurate and up to international standards.”