In this report, BLESSING BATURE writes on the need to ensure sustained campaign for birth registration in the face of continuous clamour for fair and equal distribution of economic resources.
The need for an appraisal of the role of Birth Registration is imperative.
In Nigeria, according to the 2013 demographic health survey, birth registration of under-5 children is approximately 30%, while the remaining 70 percent remain unregistered and in legal terms do not exist.
It is an established fact that birth registration data, when correctly captured, can help play an important role in the planning of a country’s economic and social development.
Disaggregated population data can help identify geographic, social, 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.
It will be recalled that Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act in 2003. This groundbreaking law incorporated the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, for the first time, provided a comprehensive framework for preventing and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of children.
A decade later, 23 out of 36 States had adopted this law. In practice, children are at risk of multiple violations of their rights, including violence, trafficking, exploitative labour, child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Circumcision.
Available statistics indicated that over 17.5 million children could be categorized as orphaned and vulnerable.
Indeed, large numbers of children, including some as young as five, flee poverty, abuse and family breakdown, and end up on the streets. Children living and working on the streets are more prone to illnesses, malnourishment, accidents, drug abuse, arrest, harassment and trafficking.
Sadly, Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for domestic service, prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour.
Reports indicate that as many as a quarter of Nigeria’s children aged 5-14 are involved in child labour.
In northern Nigeria, many of the street children are sent out from their homes to receive a traditional Koranic education, but their teachers often make them beg or carry out menial jobs.
Negative social norms continue to impact children. For instance, child marriage is highly prevalent, mostly in the northern states.
Additionaly too, despite legislation and policies prohibiting female genital mutilation, or cutting, 27 per cent of females in Nigeria have been subjected to this practice, while in a number of southern states FGM/C has been carried out on over 70 per cent of females.
Over 380,000 children have been displaced by the insurgency in the northeastern states. Many children have been killed, maimed and abducted. There are also reports that children have been detained as a result of counter-terrorism operations. All these underscore the need for accurate data through effective registration.
Understanding clamour for birth registration
Birth registration is an essential component of children’s rights to existence, identity and protection and is critical to achieving national progress in the area of child protection.
Yet, according to the 2013 Nigeria DHS, only 57 percent of under-5 is registered.
Major reason for this children not registered is either due to ignorance of parents and care givers or the fact that very rural communities have no knowledge of birth registration.
About 62 percent of birth occurred at home as only 35 percent of birth in Nigeria are delivered in health facility. So the poor birth registration in Nigeria has it root in the traditional child delivery homes which arguably hampered efficient birth registration thereby overturning a feat already achieved by government.
The benefit of registration to the society can never be over emphasised because it help provides data on fertility and mortality disaggregated by age and gender, provides data on causes of death, relative impact of specific disease on mortality which can lead to policy interventions, provides data for planning in health, education, dynamics and development goals and targets like the MDGs.
Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence, the registration of birth is fundamental to the realisation of a number of rights and practical needs including providing access to health care, immunization and ensuring that children enroll in school at the right time.
Other advantages included but not limited to enforcing laws relating to minimum age for employment, effectively countering the problem of girls forced into marriage before they are legally eligible without proof of age, ensuring that children in conflict with the law are given special protection and not treated (legally and practically) as adults, protecting young people from under-age military service or conscription, protecting children from harassment by police or other law enforcement officials, securing the child’s right to a nationality, at the time of birth or at a later stage, protecting children who are trafficked, and who are eventually repatriated and reunited with family members, getting a passport, opening a bank account, obtaining credit, voting or finding employment.
In addition to issues relating to protection, a functioning system of birth and civil registration ensures that the country has an up-to-date and reliable database for planning. This is as useful for national level planning as it is for local government bodies that are responsible for maintaining education, health and other social services for the community.
Hafsatu Husaini Isiyaku is an Asistant Director with National Population Commission, the federal government agency saddled with the responsibilities of registering birth and death among other vital population statistics. She said most people in Africa are born and die without leaving a trace in any legal record or official statistics, such as births, deaths and other vital events in between.
“Not leaving records through civil registrations renders most of the world’s poor invisible and marginalized, exposing them to be victims of exploitations and human rights violations; which in turn limits their access to socio-economic benefits”.
Understandably, Hafsatu said the importance of child registration could never be over emphasized.
Indeed, it provides legal and documentary evidence to certify a person’s existence, age, percentage, birthplace and nationality enables a person’s eligibility for health care, admission into school, voting, obtaining a passport, employment, and marriage. It helps to check incidences of child abuse, child trafficking, early marriages, child labour and unlawful detention.
Our correspondent gathered that prior to 2011 assessment of birth registration status, coverage was limited to data from population -based national survey such as the DHS or MICs or from the NPOPC birth register.
But Hafsatu said “These national surveys were seen as an ineffective tool for improving or monitoring the system of birth registration, stressing that RAPIDSMS deployment is designed to help identify the gaps in birth registration data report at the local level and disparities in service delivery which aims is to facilitate prompt interventions in areas where birth registration coverage is low and to measure how programmatic challenges and assess the results”.The resort to birth certificates, according to the Ekiti State Director of the National Population Commission, Fadairo Francis, is to prevent under-aged children from being trafficked.
Fadairo said because many Nigerian children do not have proper birth certificates, traffickers take advantage of the situation, lure them and obtain passports for them using forged birth certificates, after which they traffick such children under the pretense that the children are travelling on their own.
“We are asking for a waiver to ensure that everybody gets a birth certificate because sometimes when you get a victim, the age becomes an issue,” he said.
According to Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF, Sharon Oladiji, most countries have a legal provision for registering births of children within a prescribed period.
However, these laws are often not comprehensive enough, are not enforced or do not function.
In many developing countries, birth registration systems have fallen into disuse. In some cases this may be due to bureaucratic lethargy and a lack of oversight.
It may also be linked to a lack of resources, given the costs attached to providing birth registration. There are also practical problems, for example where births occur away from registration locations.
This includes births in isolated rural areas, or births away from medical facilities where registration normally takes place. Sometimes there may be a deliberate element to a lack of birth registration, with particular groups being excluded due to discriminatory policies intended to minimize the size of ethnic minorities for political reasons or avoid the provision of assistance to immigrants.
Particularly in remote areas, parents often do not see the benefits of their own citizenship, let alone the benefits that birth registration would confer on their children.
Where registration facilities are difficult to access or have costs attached, parents may be reluctant to register their children. A lack of parental enthusiasm for birth registration can undermine efforts to improve birth registration systems.
The first requirement is that birth registration be universal and free.
Governments have to be committed to make the resources available to register every child without discrimination. This includes organizing awareness-raising and promotion campaigns.
To enforce birth registration in Nigeria, perhaps the Immigration Service needs to make birth certificate from the NPC mandatory for issuing passport to children and most government institutions should require presentation of sworn age affidavit (which is subject to manipulation) as evidence of data of birth certificates.
There is also the need to engage the traditional/ religious leaders who are trusted members of their communities, who have moral voice and a platform they can use to influence and inspire their followers to become vanguard for birth registration.