The first right birth registration in Nigeria
by Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop
16 March 2015
“How many of you have had your births registered?” Sharon Oladiji, Child Protection Officer, UNICEF Nigeria asks a group of school children assembled in Millennium Park, Abuja (left).
Only one third of the 40 children put up their hands. Yet these children are fortunate enough to be in education (40% of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend school), and so are more likely to have their births registered because a certificate is a mandatory requirement for some forms of education in Nigeria.
For children in hard to reach areas, such as rural communities in the North of the country, both education and a birth certificate are inaccessible to many. Other social indicators are poor including high levels of food insecurity and some of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. The percentage of births registered in these areas can be as low as 3%, as in Zamfara State.
A birth certificate is itself a human right – the right to identity – as well as being fundamental to the realization of a number of other rights such as providing access to education, healthcare, and voting rights for example. A birth certificate is also protective against the abuse of rights. If a child has a birth certificate then their life and age are documented; they must be accounted for by their family and communities, and they are less vulnerable to exploitation such as human trafficking and child marriage.
Data from birth registration and other aspects of the civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) function such as death registration are also critical in government planning and accountability to populations.
After leaving Millennium Park, Sharon heads for the radio station Nigeria Info Abuja for an on-air discussion about child rights.
“Issuing birth certificates enables planning for the future of our young ones. A birth certificate determines when you will be in school, when you will be out of school, when you will work, get married, when you should retire.
“Some of the problems we have in Nigeria are about planning. Graduates today were born 21 or 22 years ago. We should have known that 22 years down the line, these young people would be ready for work. They should have a means of a livelihood, jobs to do. So we should plan ahead. But if we do not know the number of children that are born today, how are we going to plan 10 years down the line, 20 years down the line? That is one reason why birth registration is so important.”
Sharon is dedicated to increasing birth registration in Nigeria, along with other members of UNICEF’s child protection team, headed by Rachel Harvey. An EU-UNICEF initiative Breaking with Broken Systems which ran in Nigeria during 2013 and 2014, supported the National Population Commission of Nigeria (NPopC) to significantly increase birth registrations.
During that period 6,435,104 under-fives were registered by NPoPC – an increase of over two million from the number of registrations recorded in 2011 and 2012. Targeting registration of children aged under one through partnerships with the health sector, resulted in 3,947,047 under-ones being registered during the programme period, an increase of over 500,000 from 2011-2012.
This was no mean feat in a country which was hit by conflict in the North East. Sharon explains:
“Instability in the North East has created barriers to accessing birth registration. However at the same time, it has made birth registration even more compelling, as large communities of internally displaced persons (IDPs) desperately need identity documents in order to access basic services and eventually return to their communities”.
Sharon leaves the radio station, and heads straight to a meeting with NPopC and the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), where plans are being discussed for a centrally managed population database as part of the country’s reform of its CRVS system.
UNICEF’s Generation 2030/Africa report predicts that Nigeria will be responsible for 10% of the world’s births by 2050. It is therefore vital that the country has a functioning CRVS system to both count and account to its growing population. Step by step, UNICEF and partners are helping to make this happen.
Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop visited Nigeria with UNICEF for the EU-UNICEF Breaking with Broken Systems programme.
Photos © E Willmott-Harrop 2014.
Watch a video about Elizabeth’s visit to explore CRVS in Nigeria.