Explainer: Why is birth registration important in Nigeria?
The profiles of at least 17 million Nigeria children have no identity, a child without a birth certificate is unable to verify their age and this has negative effect on many areas of the child’s life in terms of access to healthcare, basic education, and right to a name, which has implications for nationality.
In addition, an unregistered child is more at risk of being exploited for child labour, arrested and treated as an adult in the justice system, and being forcibly recruited into the armed forces, child marriage, or of being trafficked.
Nigeria has the largest population of unregistered children in sub-Sahara Africa. Data on the availability, distribution and trends in birth registration has shown the country has the highest numbers of unregistered children under five, which has prevented effective planning.
The burden of children under the age five unregistered each year remains heavy in many African countries.
However, with about 70 percent of children in Nigeria not having their births registered, the National Population Commission (NPC) Lagos state, has also recorded over 1.4 million children with no birth registration, according to Rapidsms.org a global birth registration platform.
Sharon Oladiji, child protection specialist at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 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 for 11 global births in 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 important for Africa’s demographic transition,” she said.
What is birth registration?
Birth registration is the first step towards recognising a child’s inalienable right as a human being; this means that the birth is officially recorded by a branch of a government or state.
A birth certificate sets out the child’s legal name, their date of birth and their place of birth.
The certificate can stop a child from becoming ‘stateless’ a situation in which a person has no recognised nationality and unregistered children are often members of particular indigenous, religious or ethnic groups.
What does law say about birth registration?
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.
In Nigeria, children birth is registered in the National Population Commission. 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’.
What are the challenges of birth registration?
Some parents are struggling to have their child’s birth registered. In Nigeria, this causes huge problems, creating barriers to accessing services, basic child and human rights, education and health service.
However, corruption at different government regulatory agencies and lack of public awareness on the importance of birth registration; coupled with ingrained social and cultural belief promotes the non-registration of births and deaths of children. Education actors do not appreciate or see the birth certificate as a prerequisite for monitoring enrolment and dropout rates, resulting in millions of children living without birth certificates in Nigeria today.
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 a strategy that can help, I urge that citizens should embrace registration for easy identification and policy making,” said Odubanjo.
Oladiji added that prioritisation of interventions are needed to accelerate progress, especially amongst the poor in rural areas and among socially disadvantaged groups.
What are the possible consequences of a weak birth registration system?
According to Pernille Ironside, deputy representative, UNICEF Nigeria, to achieve Birth Registration for all children in Nigeria, they have been addressing bottlenecks that impede Registration. We have been doing this with the fantastic support of EU in Nigeria.
“The consequences of a weak birth registration system are incapacity to generate relevant public health data and national estimates and population planning; poorly functioning civil registration directly affects the exercise of basic human rights,” Oladiji, the UNICEF Child Protection Specialist
She added that to achieve free and universal birth registration, formulating and enacting laws, policies and standards-dealing with two parallel and competing, birth registration systems, improving service delivery identifying barriers, encouraging innovation, forging community based-approaches.
Ways to boost birth registration in Nigeria
According to UNICEF the way forward is that appropriate funding should consider workforce size, operational costs (such as transportation), infrastructure, monitoring and logistics costs- with the allocation arranged according to an assessment of need, rather than a standard payment to each state office.
Also, expanding birth registration services in local government areas (LGAs) where existing capacity is too low to cover the designated catchment area or population, by expanding birth registration resources (funding personnel procurement of material infrastructure – office spaces and furniture, etcetera) and allocations to LGAs with the highest catchment areas or populations.
Increase registrar’s resources to strengthen collaboration with the health and education sector, including making available birth registration services in all primary health centres and ECD classes
Npopc officials are provided office spaces within the LGA offices with handheld devises to enable registering children and creating a data bank- but not necessarily issue a birth certificate. The idea is where data of children born are stored in a data bank; retrieval will be easy to enable issuance of certificates.