Improving Birth Registration To Provide Basic Services For Nigerian Children
Folu Adediran, 17, a secondary school leaver who is an indigene and resident of a rural community in Apapa town in Lagos State has just obtained a scholarship to study Medicine in the USA.
Folu visited the American Embassy to process her own visa. She came with complete documents, but she had a Church baptismal certificate to represent her birth certificate.
During the screening, her application was rejected because she had no valid birth certificate. Unfortunately, she missed her scholarship admission.
Folu is from a family of three. All of them were born in a Faith-based clinic and none of them have a birth certificate. Speaking to DAILY INDEPENDENT at Apapa Magistrate Court where she came to swear affidavit, Folu confirmed that her birth took place in a faith-based clinic. She said that her family lives in a hard-to-reach rural area of Apapa and that one has to travel long distance by boat to access a health centre.
“Therefore, many children in my community were born in faith-based clinics or Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA) centres,” the teenager said.
Unfortunately, their births are not registered as bonafide members of the community. None of them has a birth certificate.
“I only have a Baptismal and Birth Certificate from my church.” she said regrettably, apparently ruminating over her missed scholarship to study in the USA.
Sadly, Folu is among Nigerians whose parents are yet to understand the significance of birth registration; difference between Church Baptismal certificate and the certificate issued by the National Population Commission (NPoPC), an agency responsible for the registration of birth and death in the country.
Teenagers like Folu whose births are not registered, have no official record of their full names, parents, place of birth, date of birth, and nationality. Therefore, their access to basic services is threatened.
They are at the risk of being exploited and abused because their official ‘invisibility’ increases their vulnerability. In legal terms, Folu and any child who share similar fate do not exist. They along with over 1.4 million other children in Lagos with no birth registration, according to Rapidsms.org, a global birth registration platform, will face similar predicament without any fault of theirs.
The violation of their rights is going unnoticed. This issue is common across the country, not only in Lagos.
The National Population Commission says, as at 2016, there were over 21 million people in Lagos, though Nigeria is ranked No 1 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 disputable. 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 per cent of all global births. From 2015 to 2030, and estimated 136 million births took place in Nigeria, which is 19 per cent of all African babies and six per cent of the global total.
Commenting, UNICEF, Child Protection Specialist, Mrs. Sharon Oladiji, Birth registration is the first step towards recognising a child’s inalienable right as a human being, but in Lagos state, several challenges to the registration of these children abound.
They are shortchanged of their rights. Reacting during a two-day media workshop organised by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in collaboration with UNICEF, on the need to scale-up birth registration in Lagos State, Oladiji bemoaned that the rights of over 1.4 million children in the State was threatened and called for expansion of birth registration services.
She noted that prioritisation of interventions was needed to accelerate progress, especially among the poor in rural areas and socially disadvantaged groups. Birth registration is the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of births, as provided by regulation in accordance with legal requirements.
In spite of 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 bonafide citizen.
DAILY INDEPENDENT investigations show that parents pay up to N5000 in some centres depending on the age of the child. For instance, for children under one month, parents pay N1, 000, while for children above a year, the cost is between N1000 and N5, 000.
Analysts view such illegal fees to be indirectly contributing to denial of children identity, and many will be trafficked because their birth is not recognised.
The latest data from RapidSMS.org, a global birth registration platform shows that no fewer than 1,436,986 (31 per cent) of under-five children in Lagos are not registered at birth.
Collaborating this situation in Lagos, the Head of Department, Vital Registration, Department National Population Commission, NPoPC Lagos State, Mr. Nwannukwu Ikechukwu, attributed the low birth registration rate in the State to many challenges including, 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.
Clarifying on external challenges, he said that millions of especially under-5 children encountering the formal health system to receive vaccines within five years of age are unregistered, due to inadequate birth registrars.
Other challenges are; “Lack of public awareness on importance of birth registration, ingrained social and cultural beliefs that perpetuates non-registering births and deaths of children, education actors do not appreciate or see the birth certificate as a prerequisite for monitoring enrolment and dropout rates.
This is partly because the Nigerian Immigration Service does not make birth certificates from NpopC mandatory for issuing a passport to children, among others.
However, he revealed that NPoPC is stepping up efforts to register one million children before the end of December 2019.
With a total of 231,584 registrations comprising 117,586 boys and 113,998 girls, Lagos had the second highest number of birth registrations in the country in 2018 after Borno State.
The Lagos State 2019 report shows that the worst-performing Local Government Areas (LGAs) are Epe with 28,817 registrations, Lagos Island 28,579 registrations, and Ibeju- Lekki with 18,346 registrations.
In 2018, the worst-performing LGAs were Ajeromi/Ifelodun with 34 per cent, Lagos Mainland with 36 per cent and Mushin with 41 per cent birth registrations.
“When a child is not registered, there is no official record of his/her full names and that child will not have access to basic services,” the Head of Department, Vital Registration, NPoPC Lagos State said.
He said to scale up the number of registered births in Lagos, the Commission plans to create an additional 26 centres across the state.
Nwannukwu enjoined the government to employ more adhoc registrars, to enable the commission to cover more areas, especially in hard to reach communities within the state.
Provisions in the current legislation for birth registration make it mandatory for all births to be registered. 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. There is obvious need to secure the need of every Nigerian child by investing in processes of birth registration as well as ensuring smooth coordination between birth registration centres and health facilities.