Many are oblivious of the fact that not registering a child at birth is a breach of his or her fundamental right to identity and existence. This seeming act of violence is inflicted on 43 per cent of Nigeria’s under-five children, according to the 2013 Demographic Health Survey unfurled recently. The National Population Commission and UNICEF, which assayed the implications of this gaffe at a recent workshop in Kaduna, North-Central Nigeria, say that the country’s healthcare and education services are the worse for it.
The chairman of NPC, Duruiheoma Eze, emphasises that three in every five births, representing 60 per cent, occur at home, a situation that makes it difficult for such births to be registered. The UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Sharon Oladiji, laments, “These children are denied the right to some health and educational benefits. They are not included in (the) planning process because they simply do not exist.”
The United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child Article 7 states that every child has the right to be registered at birth by the state. In many civilised countries, including the United Kingdom, a child must be registered within 42 days of being born. This is strengthened by the African Charter on Rights and Welfare of the Child Article 6. Nigeria is a signatory to these protocols. But, regrettably, “about 70 per cent of the 5 million children born annually in Nigeria are not being registered at birth. They have no birth certificate(s) and, in legal terms, they do not exist,” according to UNICEF.
Nigeria is suffering both the short-term and long term consequences of this anomaly. Periodically, the country is caught cheating in African and world football age-group competitions. For instance, three under-17 national team players were recently barred from participating in the African Championship in Morocco. At schools too, many parents lie about the ages of their children just to get them pre-maturely admitted.
In the Civil Service, age falsification is rampant, as affidavits supplant birth certificates. In 2012, Oyo State sacked 3,000 workers because of infractions bordering on certificate and age falsifications. The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Edo State had faced a similar oddity in their services. The judiciary is not spared either. In July 2013, the National Judicial Council sacked the Acting Chief Judge of Abia State, Shadrack Nwanosike, on the grounds that he “falsified his date of birth, which invariably affected his retirement age.”
Indeed, doctoring of age has kept many workers in both public and private service longer than necessary, thereby shutting the door against millions of unemployed graduates. National productivity is ultimately affected.
While the Magnetic Resonance Imagery is now being used to checkmate age-forgery in football, government at all levels, however, appears helpless in dealing with the scourge in the civil service. Our entire national life should not be deceit all through.
The country can end this tale of unbridled dishonesty by setting a target when the use of a birth certificate for admitting a child into school becomes non-negotiable. This is done in Sudan, Tanzania, Cameroon and South Africa. According to UNICEF, in Cameroon, many children who entered primary schools in rural communities without birth certificates, “…later find (that) they are unable to sit government exams for secondary schools due to their lack of legal registration.”
Statistics are vital for accurate planning and in the provision of social services. Outside our shores, official data are taken with a pinch of salt because of the negligence in adopting global best practices as underpinned by non-registration of births. When Nigerian researchers rely on UNICEF, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Health Organisation and other international organisations for data, which ought to have been supplied by local agencies, it underscores the depth of the crisis.
Birth registration benefits are huge. Besides using it for a child’s school enrolment, providing access to healthcare and immunisation, it could also be used to checkmate child trafficking and in job placement later in life, etc.
Therefore, states and the 774 Local Government Areas should see the registration of births and deaths as critical; and in the interest of the larger society. If the military saw it expedient to promulgate the Compulsory Registration of Births and Deaths Decree 69 of 1992, which authorised the NPC to register these events, it is inexplicable why, under a democratic dispensation, this practice is relegated to the background.
Although, the Federal Government, in concert with UNICEF, launched a public awareness campaign on birth registration in July 2007, which assembled 500 participants drawn from the public, private and traditional institutions, the 2013 demographic health survey revelation – non-registration of 43 per cent of under-five − points to the fact that more work still needs to be done.
Traditional institutions, faith-based organisations, radio and television stations have critical roles to play in turning this ugly tide by acting as agents of mobilisation and social change.