Data on the distribution and trends in birth registration have shown Nigeria has the highest number of unregistered children under five, this has prevented effective planning. OBOKOH ANTHONIA writes on the urgent need to tackle related challenges with regards to improving awareness and government commitment.
Nigeria has the largest population of unregistered children in sub-Sahara Africa. This deprives such children of their right to an identity, name and nationality. It also denies them access to basic social services, such as healthcare. The burden of unregistered children under the age 5 each year remains heavy in many African countries.
Birth registration is the first step towards recognising a child’s inalienable right as a human being. Globally the births of more than 50 million children – which represent more than 40 per cent of total births worldwide – go unregistered each year.
In Nigeria, about 70 percent of the 5 million children born annually in Nigeria is not being registered at birth. This is according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study based on its assessment of ten nations in Africa.
The absence of birth records has hindered proper education and socio-economic planning by the government. These challenges relate to limited financial support for registration processes, lack of awareness regarding the importance of birth registration as a human right and ignorance and illiteracy of the rural men and women about the importance of birth registration.
The unregistered children are often members of particular indigenous, religious or ethnic groups.
However, some factors responsible for this development in Nigeria include decline of women’s access to maternity centres because of increased poverty and high medical costs.
Other factors are distance to birth registration centres due to bad roads or non-availability of public transport for those in rural areas, lack of effective registration infrastructure and low level of awareness of current legislation.
However, in Nigeria, there are provisions in the current legislation for birth registration. The Federal Government’s decree No. 69 of 1992 on vital registration states that registration shall be carried out free of charge, within a period of 60 days from the date of birth.
Sharon Oladiji, the UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, at Birth Evaluation Report dissemination event April 15, in Abuja said the number of children under five in Nigeria is projected to increase from 32 million in 2015 to 58 million by 2050.
“The federal government must ensure the birth registration of children in the country to properly plan for their education, healthcare and other services. We need birth records for them because this is critical for their education, health and other social initiatives,” she said.
Oladiji, said between now and 2030, 136 million babies will be born in Nigeria at 9 million births per year and from 2031 until mid-century there will be 224 million more.
“Assuming the current trends persist, a Nigerian will be born 1 in every 11 global births by 2050. A special attention is required for the under-five children in Nigeria. Investing in girls and women, especially in reproductive health, education and preventing child marriage is key to Africa’s demographic transition,” she said.
However, in Nigeria, there are provisions in the current legislation for birth registration. The 2003 Child Rights Act in its Section 5 states that: ‘Every child has the right to a name and the birth of every child shall be registered’.
According to Pernille Ironside, deputy representative UNICEF, for Nigeria to achieve Birth Registration for all children, “we have been addressing bottlenecks that impede Registration. We have been doing this with the fantastic support of EU in Nigeria.”
“From 2012 to 2016, we increased the number of births registered in Nigeria from 3 million to 5 million.”
“However, only half of the children under 5 in Nigeria have their births registered. This is not enough. I hope we can take this opportunity to commit to a quantum leap to increase birth registration in the country because every single child counts and that counting starts at the moment of birth registration,” she said.
Doyin Odubanjo, chairman, Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Lagos Chapter, said for Nigeria to progress in birth registration, there should be connection with the local government, health systems and services to ensure every new born child is counted and information are documented.
“Engaging the religious bodies to encourage members on the need to register their child at birth is also strategy to help, the country merge collation of birth registration; I urge that citizens should embrace respiration for easy identification and policy making,” said Odubanjo.