…70% have no identity, legally they don’t exist — UNICEF
By Chioma Obinna
For every 10 Nigerian children that are at least five years old, there are no records about the birth of seven. Even though these children have names, their birth is not registered by the relevant authorities and their identity is therefore questionable.
According the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in Africa, Nigeria is ranked highest for the number of children whose births were not registered.
A UNICEF report entitled: Generation 2030 which did the ranking also revealed that among the 10 countries contributing significantly to the region’s immense population increase in absolute terms between 2015 and 2050, Nigeria will have additional 257 million inhabitants followed closely by Ethiopia with 89 million and Democratic Republic of the Congo with 84 million.
Already, according to the report, the greatest number of births in Africa takes place in Nigeria and by the end of 2015, one fifth of the continent’s births were in Nigeria alone, accounting for five per cent of all global births. From 2015 to 2030, 136 million births are estimated to take place in Nigeria, which is 19 per cent of all African babies and 6 per cent of the global total.
Birth registration is defined as the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of births, as provided by decree or regulation in accordance with the legal requirements in each country.
However, despite numerous developmental benefits of birth registration, little or no attention is accorded it in Nigeria.
Statistics from the country’s Birth Registration Dashboard show that in 2016, in 24,890 health centres across the country, birth registration activities took place in only 30 per cent or 7,499 of the health facilities.
Thus, millions of children are consistently missed in this most important exercise, constituting a major reason for very low registration rates of newborn and under-1 birth.
In 2017, statistics also showed slight reduction in the number of health facilities basically due to the country’s situation and limitations within the health sector.
Unlike the 24,890 in 2016, in 2017, there were 24,705 health centres with birth registration services available in only 29 per cent or 7,029 health facilities with 71 per cent of the total health facilities not conducting routine birth registration services across the country.
The reduction in the number of health facilities further reduced the coverage of the number of under-1 children registered in 2017.
Also, the dashboard showed that in 2017, only 32 per cent under-1 and 8 per cent under-5 births were registered.
Revealing the situation on birth registration in Nigeria, a UNICEF Child Specialist, Mrs Sharon Oladiji, in her presentation entitled: UNICEF African Generation Report: Implication for birth and death registration in Nigeria and Africa, explained that the profile of children whose births were not registered, by implication, have no official record of their full names, parents, place of birth, date of birth and their nationality.
Oladiji said such children’s access to basic services was under threat and that their official ‘invisibility’ increases their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.
“In legal terms, they do not exist and violations of their rights are going unnoticed,” she said.
Oladiji who spoke during a media dialogue in Kano State organised by UNICEF and the Federal Ministry of Information, noted that urgent and concerted efforts are needed through integrating birth registration services at the health care delivery points across the country.
Oladiji who noted that 70 per cent of children in Nigeria still do not have their births registered, according to the National Demographic Health Survey, NDHS, 2013, also said the recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS, indicates that 46.8 per cent of under-5 were registered between 2016/2017 following support from UNICEF.
The UNICEF scribe, however, explained that birth registration data, when correctly collected, plays an important role in the planning of a country’s economic and social development.
She added that disaggregated population data can help identify geographic, social and economic and gender disparities within national boundaries.
“Registering the child will enable government plan and implement basic social services (health, education, employment, etc.) monitor, evaluate and report on the impact of its social and economic policies.
“It will also ensure that resources are allocated to where they are really needed within different geographical areas or different groups in society,” she added.
She further traced the poor birth registration on internal institutional challenges of the National Population Commission, NpopC.
She identified some internal institutional challenges on the part of NpopC to include; attitude of staff, low morale of staff, insufficient workforce and resources, too few registrars covering very large areas or populations including hard-to-reach areas, operation of two parallel and competing systems for birth registration and slow digitalisation process, among others.
In her presentation entitled: Historical Perspectives of Birth Registration in Nigeria, the Assistant Director at the National Population Commission, NpopC, Hapsatu Husaini Isiyaku said birth registration of under-5 children in Nigeria is approximately 30 per cent while the remaining 70 per cent remain unregistered and in legal terms, do not exist.
Isiyaku said the major reason why the children were not registered was either due to ignorance of parents and care givers or the very rural communities have no knowledge of birth registration.
According to her, about 62 per cent of birth occurred at home, only 35 per cent of births in Nigeria are delivered in health facilities.
Recalling that the first conscious effort to have a universal system of registration of births and deaths began in 1988 when the Federal Government promulgated the “Birth and Deaths Compulsory Registration Decree 39 of 1979,” she said the decree was aimed at establishing a uniform national and state level registration hierarchy including the appointment of a Registrar-General for the country.
The NpopC Director noted that the lack of completeness of civil registration was impacting on the availability of complete data, the quality of the information therein and the use of these data for reliable decision-making processes.
She disclosed that birth registrations are manually collected and there was inadequate office accommodation for the registrars.
Other challenges she identified include; inadequate storage facilities for the working materials, many localities sparsely distributed in the area hence the need for logistics become apparent to allow registrars navigate catchment areas with less difficulties.
Further lamenting the numerous challenges facing the commission, she said there was the urgent need to capture birth registration data in the facility level data tools and in the national DHIS and HMIS tools, “Promote documentation of birth registration services and strengthen integration efforts with the health sector and other convergent programmes.
“There is insufficient workforce to adequately provide birth registration services across the country.”
Isiyaku said as part of efforts of Child Protection Section to strengthen community level approach, birth registration efforts in the first half of the year focused on community, wards and LGA intervention during the NPopC EAD process in 15 states.
“The approach and process enabled birth registration of at least 680,657 under-5 children in 15 LGAs, 150 wards and 1,041 communities, whose births would never have been registered.
Currently, 3,411,419 (females/1,652,248 and males/1,759,171) children in different age bands have been registered in the first half of 2018. She said NpopC has produced IEC materials in six languages (Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Pidgin, Kanuri and English) to promote countrywide birth registration campaign.
Isiyaku said there is the need for the commission to take full responsibility to make necessary demand to government.
“The NpopC collaboration with UNICEF should be sustained. The Commission should provide adequate office accommodation and storage facilities. There is urgent need to migrate from analogue to digital registration,” she stated.