Naming of a child is not complete until his or her birth is registered. However, the process of birth registration sometimes comes with bottlenecks faced by mothers, particularly, the rural, uneducated dwellers. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, also found out the unwholesome practices perpetrated by officials saddled with this responsibility
At just 11 years old, Nkechi had come to a crossroads in her life, or so it seemed. She had finished her primary school preparatory for her secondary education that could be life changing. But there was a threat it could come to an abrupt and premature end. That is because Nkechi’s birth was never registered with the approved authorities at birth.
Nkechi is an only child, and when she was born, her parents didn’t know how vitally important a birth certificate would be for her. And even if they knew, they lacked knowledge of where to get the documentation necessary for Nkechi’s registration. And without a birth certificate, the school she chose denied her admission for it is the institution’s policy. If nothing is done to correct that in time, it could dramatically limit her opportunities to provide for herself or her family, and it would put her at great risk of being exploited and even trafficked in the future.
“I had Nkechi at a traditional birth home and nobody told me we needed any birth certificate and so we did not register her birth formally. Of course, we didn’t know it was important to do that until when she was about to enrol for her secondary education. My husband rushed to obtain a court affidavit, which the school authorities rejected. The school insisted she doesn’t need an affidavit at that age but a certified birth certificate. As it turned out, that put us in a sort of dilemma,” Nkechi’s distrust mother lamented.
However Nkechi’s story is not an isolated case.
Toyin’s daughter was approaching school age, but there was a problem. Like Nkechi, she didn’t have a birth certificate. She cannot enroll in school without one. The idea of securing a birth certificate was daunting and unclear for Toyin. She is poor and had little education. She often does not understand her citizenship rights and does not know how to apply for her daughter’s identity documents.
Fortunately, Toyin had heard about a local office, where a nurse offered to assist those needing help in that locality. She sent her husband to the office to find out if they could help her family through the process of acquiring proper identity documents. At the office, the husband ran into another hitch; the officers she met at the registration point demanded money, though a paltry N500, which he could not afford. With that, Toyin and her husband had to abandon registering their child’s birth, formally.
Sadly, Nkechi and Toyin’s stories are all too common. In Nigeria, the number of children under age five without birth certificates remains a staggering figure. There are many reasons these children don’t get registered. Families in rural areas often don’t understand the need for birth certificates. Severe poverty forces others to choose between giving their children a legal identity or food to eat. And for some families, the problem preventing registration could be as simple as an error on the parents’ own marriage certificate — or from a religious authority rather than a legal one.
Thankfully for Nkechi and children like her, there is hope. At present, there is enough information about birth registration with the National Population Commission (NpopC), whose offices are scattered in all the local government areas and hospitals that could be accessed to get the necessary information without paying any money.
But it wasn’t that easy for Oyinkan (surname withheld) who misplaced her birth certificate. When she needed it for her university admission verification, she was asked to visit an NpopC office at Ado Odo Ota Local Government secretariat in Ogun State to obtain another one.
She narrated: “I lost my birth certificate when I was 16. I was told I could get a replacement when I was offered admission because it was part of the school’s requirement. But the officer I met at the NpopC office at the secretariat council demanded N5,000 to reissue the certificate. She told me that was the fee for such an age. The officer said it would have been less if I had come for it when I was just under five. But I had only N2,000 with me at the time.
“That meant I had to forgo it, which eventually cost me my admission. I waited for two more years before I got an affidavit from a high court which I eventually used. It was later I discovered I could have got the replacement free of charge since I was under 17 years at the time.”
For another, who identified herself simply as Adaku, her mother had a home birth, and never bothered with any of the paper work she was apparently supposed to do. Two months after, she left for “go a fishing” and never came back. I didn’t know much, but I think it was safe to assume she’d never come back.
“Today, I can’t get a job, because I have no identification. I can’t get any identification because I have no parents to prove I’m a citizen. I’m beyond frustrated and scared. This ought not to have happened to me,” Adaku lamented. The story is also not different at the Orile Agege General Hospital in Lagos. A middle-aged woman, who identified herself simply as Meshioye, had a similar experience. She had gone to the NpopC officer at the hospital to get her children’s birth certificates which someone told her was free but ended up paying N1500 each via a nurse that was introduced to her before she could be given.
The children ages were seven and 10 years at the time. Another woman, who gave her name simply as Oriyomi, also said she was told the fees for the registration depend on the ages of the children. According to her informant, ages 0-9 is N500 while age 10 and above usually attract N1000 and above.
But Saturday Telegraph investigations have revealed that the birth registration fees in the hospital have not been stable for some time now. Many unsuspecting victims who were usually cornered by some fraudulent nurses were made to part with between N1500 and N5000 depending on the age of the child in question.
“The illiterate mothers pay these huge sums because they go through proxies since they can’t come to the hospital to do that by themselves for one reasons or the other. Sometimes they are asked not to border coming as the process could take much of their time. But this is a ploy to keep them away from knowing the truth,” said one source. Yet a woman, who claimed to be an employee of NpopC in the hospital and identified herself as Ope, told one of our correspondents that ignorance should be blamed for the ugly development.
She confirmed that birth registration should be free for ages 0-17 and attestation from 18 years and above. She said: “You see, some unscrupulous nurses, could take advantage of the uninformed to perpetrate fraud. That is bad. Our job is to enlighten people, especially the rural dwellers, and encourage them to do the right thing. Do you even know that some of them are made to go with mere notification from hospitals? This is fraud and should not be encouraged in whatever guise.
“For the avoidance of doubt, birth registration is a right for all children and it is free, at least from 0-17 years of age. Even when one is already 18, his or her birth registration could still be attestation. It is only in that instance that fees are charged. And I think it is just N1500. “Unlawful registration should be condemned.
Many people register their child’s birth anywhere, even at Oluwole, (an area on Lagos Island) which is wrong. The only right place for the registration is at the NpopC offices in designated areas like general hospitals and local government councils. I’d suggest a proper enlightenment so that people should know the right thing to do and where to go to for such a simple thing as birth registration.” Another employee at Ikorodu General Hospital, who refused to be identified, attempted to put a lie to the position Ope conversed. She told one of our reporters that it is wrong for parents to think that doctors and nurses charge various sums to register a child’s birth.
“They believe birth registrations/ certificates are means of generating money for the government which is not so. Normally, when a child is born, the registration should be done within 60 days of birth. If however, the 60 days period elapsed, it becomes late registration and this attracts a fine. Children between ages 0-17 are however exempted from the fine but that opportunity has ended since 2009.
“Now, fees are charged, according to the age one is seeking to register his or her birth. If anybody tells you anything to the contrary, the person is telling you a lie. This is the truth,” she said. In Nigeria education system, any student that wants to go to any school must have his or her birth certificate as evidence. Birth registration is done in helping the children for health growth, education and can also entitled him or her to some opportunities.
It also serves as declaration of age as some people lie about their age to get a particular job. Whether the advent of a child’s birthday each year is a happy or sad occasion, it’s hard to forget the date. But millions around the country have no documentation of their birth, or even the knowledge of what day it took place.
Not having a record of one’s birthday has consequences far beyond an inability to blow out candles on the right date. People without birth certificates can’t vote or run for office and are denied access to basic rights and protections. Without birth certificates, children lack access to healthcare and immunisations, school enrollment, and proper treatment in the justice system.
In developed countries, lacking a birth certificate basically cuts one off from society. And while other regions might be less regulated, birth registrations have been seen as a child’s “passport to protection.” Unregistered kids lack any legal rights and are at heightened risk of child labour, forcible conscription, child marriage, trafficking, and sexual exploitation. Without proof of their age, minors can also be described (or sold) as much older than they actually are. For instance, a 12-year-old boy somehow becomes a 17-year-old factory worker and a 13-yearold girl is suddenly an 18-year-old wife. This happens more in the country’s youth soccer development.
Perhaps, the more reason Nigerian youths are often disqualified in international competitions on account of age falsifications. For governments, lacking vital statistics on births (and deaths) leads to incomplete data and inaccurate monitor-ing of national health trends. Around 51 million babies a year are born without any sort of certificate or digital documentation— but this estimate doesn’t include China, the world’s most populous country, where figures are unknown. The fact that the births of nearly 230 million children under the age of five have not been recorded is a global birthday crisis that more and more countries are starting to pay attention to.
In Nigeria, the births of almost half her citizens are not registered, leaving them outside support and protection systems, and uncounted in policy decisions. Registering a child’s birth is a critical first step towards safeguarding his or her lifelong protection by establishing an official identity, a recognised name and a nationality. Yet, around the country, many children under age five are said not to have been registered.
When a person does not have an officially established existence, there can be no birth certificate, no proof of age, no proof of biological parentage, and no identification. Children with no birth certificate are said not to exist before the law, and are in danger of remaining on the margins of society, or being shut out altogether.
They are the first to fall through the cracks in protection systems; their ‘invisibility’ makes it more likely that discrimination, neglect and abuse they might experience will be unnoticed, and unchallenged. Without an age established by birth certificate, there is no protection against child labour, against being treated as an adult in the justice system, against child marriage and trafficking. Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child has the right to be registered at birth without any discrimination. Birth registration should be carried out immediately after birth, or as soon as possible thereafter. It should be free and accessible to all, even if children are registered late.
However children in urban areas are more likely to be registered than those in rural areas due to some bottlenecks. A child protection specialist with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Abuja office, Sharon Oladiji, listed the bottlenecks to include the political will and the capacity of government to improve the number of birth registers.
“We have only about four thousand registers in a country of about 180 million people. We have an insufficient workforce, insufficient infrastructure, and poor resources. Birth registration hardly reaches people in hard to reach areas. Parents lack awareness also on birth registration and poverty.
These are serious bottlenecks that are affecting birth registration process,” Oladiji said. She, however, explains how birth registration with the NpopC can help reduce crime. “When you give birth to a child in a hospital and the hospital open a register and record it there that is not birth registration. When you give birth to a child and record it in church or any other place that also is not birth registration. Birth registration is when you register the birth of a child in a register supported by NpopC and the child is issued with the certificate.
“NpopC birth registration is an official recording of the birth of a child in an administrative context, recognised by the government. Giving a child an identity is the first right of the child, and when a child is not registered, there is no record of the child anywhere- the child is seen as non-existent because there is no record of him or her anywhere. “And if the government is planning for children in the state by perhaps creating schools or health interventions, because there is no record of the child, that child will not be included. When anything happens to the child, he or she just dies and that’s the end. This is not good for the country. “Again, because some children are not registered, there is no provision for their future so when they graduate, there is no work for them.
This is one of the reasons we have so much unemployed young people today,” she added. Hon. Mohammed Aliyu, Federal commissioner for NpopC for Kano and Jigawa states, also said: “We have found out that when people want to traffic young children, they don’t always have correct papers so they sometimes go and get fake papers. This has been our experience in the past. When a human trafficker wants to travel with a young child and presents a fake birth certificate at the embassy, because the national population commission birth certificate is recognised nationwide, it will be verified by the immigration service. This has saved the lives of so many young children in the past.” Aliyu said that under the child protection law, children without birth certificates sometimes are thrown into adult jail, when they commit the offence because they don’t have a birth certificate.
But through the birth registration exercises, he said, things like that could be prevented in future. He admitted that there are problems with the use of court affidavit in place of birth registration. He said: “We must admit that the use of affidavit for age declaration is susceptible to fraud because it is not recorded in the government database and cannot be verified. In the civil service, for instance, you find out that people who are 50 years old and above and about to retire can easily falsify their age by doing age declaration using court affidavit.
“Because of this, a whole lot of people in the civil service job are not coming out, so the young people who should be there are not getting a job. This is why birth registration should be given priority in this country. You find out that age has to do with everything in life; schooling, work, marriage, death, everything in life. So, if we do not register our child properly with NpopC, we are doing a disservice to our children. “Birth registration helps with planning; we have seen cases where in a local government there are about 20 schools but no children to attend the schools. In other places, there are children but not enough schools.
This is because when they were planning the infrastructure, they didn’t put into consideration the number of children that should be attending the schools. It is also amazing that we still encounter the traditional people who would not willingly submit their children for registration because of the belief that children are not to be counted.”
Inadequate funding has equally proved a formidable stumbling block to the birth registration, as revealed by the Director of Vital Registration at the NpopC, Hajia Habsat Hussaini. “My office has made several representations to the government through the National Assembly but each time, we were always told ‘no money’,” she lamented. Hussaini’s submission in a way validated the popular notion that only when it is census time in Nigeria does the government has money to dispense for enumeration. The belief, however, ignores the danger inherent in not regularly updating birth registration and virtually ignoring death registration but ironically still hoping to engage in meaningful national development.
Additional report by Oluwaseyikemi Andrew
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