Birth registration: A case for Nigeria’s ’invisible’, uncounted children
"I have never seen a birth certificate. My accurate birth date is unknown as my mother cannot remember the exact date she gave birth to me.
"Just recently, when I wanted to write my West African Examination, WAEC, my mother had to choose a birth date for me, which we are not sure it's the right date.
"On record, my WAEC and Permanent Voters Card carries two different date of birth. I was not asked to come along with my birth certificate for registration. Even if I was asked, I don't have any birth certificate to show."
Without a birth certificate, Nigerian children, like Nyarmu, are unable to prove their age.
20year old Nyarmu Silas, as she claims, who is now a Lagos resident, told our correspondent that in her community far away Bauchi State, most births are not registered because a lot of persons are not aware of its importance.
In Nigeria, about 70 percent of children were not registered at birth, hence they are without legal proof of identity and are left uncounted and invisible.
Without birth registration, children are invisible to their government, as a result, they could miss out on their rights of being protected and upheld from violence, exploitation, as well as benefit from essential services like health care and education.
Birth registration, however, also help protect migrant and refugee children against family separation, trafficking and illegal adoption. Without it, these children are at a much higher risk of not having legal ties to any country, including a nationality.
In some countries of the world, birth is taken for granted as the norm following childbirth. But in too many others, it is a critical step missing to establish a child’s legal proof of identity.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund, (UNICEF), the births of around one quarter of children under the age of five worldwide have never been recorded. These children's lives matter, but they cannot be protected if governments do not even know they exist.
Birth registeration to a great extent helps reduce the risk of children being forced into early marriage or the labour market, or recruited into armed forces.
How Important Is Birth Certificate.
There are several importance attached to having a birth certificate and one of them is, it gives the child an opportunity to get routine vaccines and other healthcare services.
For young adult, they will need this official identification for basic but important transactions like opening a bank account, getting a passport, entering the formal job market, or receiving social assistance.
UNICEF says that in low and middle income countries, on average, one in four children under age five (166 million) are not registered. Of these 166 million children, half live in just five countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Even when children are registered, they may not have proof of registration. An estimated 237 million children under age five globally, currently do not have a birth certificate.
Similarly, a UNICEF report entitled: "Generation 2030," notes that the greatest number of births in Africa takes place in Nigeria and by the end of 2015, one-fifth of the continent’s births took place in Nigeria alone, accounting for five percent of all global births. From 2015 to 2030, and estimated 136 million births will take place in Nigeria, which is 19 percent of all African babies and six percent of the global total.
Barriers Hindering Birth Registeration.
However, there are barriers hindering birth registeration such as: lack of awareness of birth registration by parents or may not understand how important it is, cost associated with registration, including travel to registration sites or late fees, cultural and ethnic barriers.
Another barrier why some children do not get registered, is that, in many parts of the world, women do not have the same rights or ability to register their child’s birth as men. There are still 25 countries where women do not have the same rights as men to legally pass their nationality to their own children.
This kind of gender discrimination in national laws and policies needs to be reviewed and revised to eliminate the negative impacts on communities.
For instance, some countries of the world, a mother may face gender discrimination when she tries to register her child, for something as simple as not having an Identification Card or marriage certificate, or if the father was not present or named on the birth form.
The laws should allow women register their children if the father is unknown, or if he refuses to acknowledge paternity such as in cases of survivors of rape or incest.
Unfortunately, barriers such as these are part of the reason why Lagos State alone has over 1.4 million children under age five not registered.
As of 2016, according to National Population Commission, (NPopC), there were over 21 million people in Lagos, but Nigeria is ranked first in country with children whose births are not registered.
For every 10 Nigerian children under five years, seven have no birth records. They have no identity because their birth was not registered and their existence is questionable.
In order to scale-up birth registration in Lagos State, UNICEF Child Right Specialist, Sharon Oladiji, decried the threat to the rights of over 1.4 million children in the State and called for expansion of birth registration services.
Oladiji advised that prioritisation of interventions were needed to accelerate progress, especially amongst the poor in rural areas and among socially disadvantaged groups.
Birth registration, according to her is the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of births, as provided by regulation in accordance with legal requirements. Despite numerous developmental benefits, attention accorded it in Lagos could be better. Though birth registration should be free, millions of Nigerians continue to pay to register the births of their children.
This trend continues to discourage families and consequently deny children their rights to be counted as a bona fide citizen.
To confirm the extortion of illegal fees from parents who wants to register their child, our Correspondent visited Ifako Ijaiye General Hospital, Lagos, where the amount paid for birth registeration varies. For instance: 500 naira is being collected for children under two years old, from five to 13 years, 1000 naira while 14 to 18 years, 1500 each for the issuance of birth certificate.
For this, analysts say such illegal fees are indirectly contributing to denial of children identity, and many will be trafficked because their birth is not recognised.
This situation, the Head of Department, Vital Registration, Department, National Population Commission, NPopC, Lagos State, Mr. Elias Nwannukwu, said has contributed to the low birth registration rate in the State, though there are challenges in the State which includes: lack of suitable offices for comptrollers and registrars; the unhealthy rivalry between Lagos state council staff and NPopC registrars, touting of birth and death certificate among others.
Streamlining the challenges into internal and external institutional challenges faced by Lagos NPopC officials in the registration of births, Nwannukwu explained that there are too few registrar’s covering very long kilometres.
This, he said includes operation of two parallel and competing systems of birth registration as well as slow digitalisation process among others.
Nwannukwu said on external challenges, millions of especially under five children encountering the formal health system to receive vaccines within five years of age are unregistered, due to inadequate birth registrars.
He said to scale up the number of registered births in Lagos, the Commission plans to create an additional 26 centres across the state.
He enjoined the government to employ more ad hoc registrars, to enable the commission cover more areas, especially in hard to reach communities within the state.
Photo: Ms. Silas
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