By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna
Peju Ajayi, 30, an indigene and resident of a rural community in Badagry town in Lagos State has just given birth to her fourth child. All of her children were born in a Traditional Birth Attendant, TBA, home and none of them have a birth certificate because according to Peju, who lives in a riverine area of Badagry, for you to get to a health centre, you will need to travel long distance by boat. According to statistics, most births occur at night. As a result, most women in her community give birth in TBA centres.
Sadly, after these children are delivered, their births are not registered as bonafide members of the community.
According to Peju, this is partly because most births in the area occur outside a health facility and many of the women cannot afford to pay the token often demanded to obtain a birth certificate.
“Where I live has made it impossible to deliver in a health facility and even if I lived closer to a health facility, my husband is a poor farmer, I don’t work, so I’m too poor to go to the Health Centre because of the cost involved.
“You need to pay for everything or else you will not be attended to. I prefer the TBAs because they are closer to home and more affordable.
“I have four children all were delivered outside a health facility. None of them has a birth certificate. I only have a birth certificate given to me by my church,” she said ignorantly.”
Unfortunately, Peju is among Nigerians who are yet to understand the importance of birth registration and the difference between church certificate and the certificate issued by the National Population Commission (NPoPC), an agency responsible for the registration of birth and death in the country.
As it stands today, Peju’s children, whose births are not registered, have no official record of their full names, parents, place of birth, date of birth, and Nationality. Hence, their access to basic services is threatened. They are at the risk of being abused and exploited because their official ‘invisibility’ increases their vulnerability.
In legal terms, Peju’s children 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 suffer the same fate for no fault of theirs. The violation of their rights is going unnoticed
Findings by Good Health Weekly reveal that this problem is not peculiar to Lagos. It is common occurrence across the country.
As of 2016, according to the National Population Commission, NpopC, there were over 21 million people in Lagos, but 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 questionable.
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 6 per cent of the global total.
In the views of a 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. Their rights are being trampled upon.
Speaking at 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 decried the threat to the rights of over 1.4 million children in the State and called for expansion of birth registration services.
She said prioritisation of interventions were needed to accelerate progress, especially amongst the poor in rural areas and among 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. Despite numerous developmental benefits, attention accorded it in Lagos could be better.
Although birth registration should be free, millions of Nigerians continue to pay to register the births of their children. This development continues to discourage families and consequently deny children their rights to be counted as a bonafide citizen.
Findings by Good Health Weekly revealed 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.
Health watchers argue that such illegal fees indirectly contribute to these children being denied their identity, and many will be trafficked because their birth is not recognised.
As you read this article, over 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.
Confirming this situation in Lagos, the Head of Department, Vital Registration, Department National Population Commission, NPoPC Lagos State, Mr Nwannukwu Ikechukwu, blamed the low birth registration the rate in the State to myriads of challenges including lack of suitable offices for comptrollers and registrars; touting of birth and death certificate; the unhealthy rivalry between Lagos state council staff and NPoPC registrars among others.
Nwannukwu who split the challenges into internal and external institutional challenges faced by Lagos NPoPC officials in the registration of births explained that there are too few registrar’s covering very long kilometres including operation of two parallel and competing systems of birth registration as well as slow digitalisation process among others.
On external challenges, he explained that millions of especially under-5 children encountering the formal health system to receive vaccines within 5 years of age are unregistered, due to inadequate birth registrars.
Other challenges include: “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.
Part of it is that the Nigerian Immigration Service does not make birth certificates from NpopC mandatory for issuing a passport to children, among others.
He, however, disclosed 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 2nd 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,” said the Head of Department, Vital Registration, Department National Population Commission, NPoPC Lagos State, Mr Nwannukwu Ikechukwu.
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 urged 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.
Certainly, there is need for the Federal and State governments to guarantee the future by investing more in processes of birth registration as well as ensuring seamless coordination between health facilities and birth registration centres.
REGISTRATION OF BIRTHS IN LAGOS STATE 2015-2018
Total Under 1 year – 176,533; Girls 87,693, Boys 88,840
Total Under 5 years – 236, 592; Girls -117,041, Boys 128,551
Total Under 1 year – 197,814; Girls 96,657, Boys 101,157 ; Total Under 5 years – 321,228; Boys 64,148, Girls 157,081
Total Under 1 year -211,312; Girls-11,801, Boys 307,509; Total Under 5 years – 338,195; Girls 165,611; Boys 172, 585
Total Under 1 year – 175,912; Girls – 86,497, Boys – 89,415 boys; Total Under 5 years – 308,529; Girls -155,032, Boys – 153,497
– Source: rapidsmsnigeria.org