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Birth registration can help reduce rate of child trafficking –– UNICEF

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Sharon Oladiji


In Nigeria today, child trafficking remains one of the worst cross border crimes according to report from the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Nigeria (NAPTIP). Report from the agency reveals that traffickers often travel with the children, using fake birth registration papers and posing as the parents. In this interview, a Child Protection Specialist, with UNICEF Abuja, Sharon Oladiji, explains how birth registration with National Population Commission (NpopC) can help reduce this crime.

What is the difference between other birth registration and NpopC registration?
When you give birth in a hospital and the child’s birth registration is done there, that is not birth registration. Also, when you register a child in the church or any other place, such is not birth registration.

Birth registration is the one supported by NpopC, where a certificate is issued. NpopC birth registration is an official recording of the birth of a child in an administrative context and recognised by 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. And if government is planning for children in the state by perhaps establishing schools or health interventions, that child will not be included, because there is no registration. Also, if anything happens to the child, 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 many unemployed young people today.

Can NpopC birth registration help prevent child trafficking?
We have found out that when people want to traffic young children, they don’t always have correct papers, so they sometimes go for 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 recognized nationwide, it will be verified by the immigration service. This has saved the lives of so many young children in the past.

What other protection benefits can be derived from birth registration?
Under the child protection law, we find that children without birth certificates are sometime thrown into adult jail, when they commit an offence because they don’t have birth certificate. But through birth registration exercises we are conducting in some places like Lagos, we hope to prevent this in future.

Is there any problem with use of court affidavit in place of birth registration?
We must admit that use of affidavit for age declaration is susceptible to fraud, because it is not recorded in government database and cannot be verified. In the civil service, for instance, you find out that people who are 50 years 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 are not retiring, so young people who should be there are not getting job. This is why birth registration should be given priority.

You discover that age has to do with schooling, work, marriage, death, and everything in life. So, if we do not register our child properly with NpopC, we are doing disservice to them. Birth registration helps with planning. We have seen cases, where in a local government, there are about 20 schools but no children to attend. 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.

Would you say Nigeria is behind in birth registration compared to other countries?
Nigeria is not behind in birth registration, but we are not just doing enough. We may attribute that to massive population, insufficient work force, hard-to-reach areas and poor areas, where some parents don’t even know the importance of birth registration.
But amidst this difficult programming environment, we can say that we have moved a bit from where we were in the last five years to where we are today.

We understand that United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has been doing a lot to support birth registration in Nigeria. Can you tell us more on this?
UNICEF has supported in the area of capacity building. We have helped with training of registrars. We have been able to create monitoring tools to track the number of children registered, as well as, build media creation and awareness in order to improve knowledge on birth registration. We have also supported interoperability of birth registration with other sectors like education, traditional rulers and policy makers, among others.

What has been the impact of the programme?
We are seeing the number of registered children moving from five million to 16 million and above. But if you look at the number of registered under-five children, which is about 16 million, it is still not enough, as it’s just about 50 percent of the number of children that should be registered. Still, efforts are ongoing to see that the number keeps increasing.

What is the ratio of registered boys to girls?
There’s a slight difference between the number of boys registered and that of girls. But it’s not too bad, except in one or two local government areas in Adamawa and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, where we see marked differences. We are, however, doing our possible best to get to the root of this problem to see what is responsible for this gap. We have been able to do away with issues of social norms and male preference through advocacy strategies we embarked on over the years through the media.

Are there bottlenecks?
The bottlenecks are the political will and the capacity of the current government to improve the number of birth registers. We have only about 4,000 registers in a country of about 180 million people. We have insufficient work force, insufficient infrastructure and poor resources. There are also big differences between urban and rural areas, birth registration not reaching people in hard-to- reach areas, parents lack of awareness on birth registration, poverty and areas of insurgence.

What is the way forward?
Government needs to look at the importance of birth registration for development, planning and data purposes. Government should support NpopC in birth registration processes, by increasing coverage and infrastructure, and should establish birth registers across the country where we don’t have them. We need the traditional institutions, health educators, civil society and media to speak more and support civil registration and birth registration.If we know the number of children we have, we can plan for them, and given the population explosion right now, there is need to do something fast about this.

What role can state governments play to ensure that birth registration takes place effectively in all states?
State governments need to sign Memo of Understanding (MoU) between NpopC and the health sector to support birth registration. So far, we have about five states that have not signed the MOU.

People in the health sector are the first contact with the child at delivery. So, there is need for them to work with the registrars and ensure that the child is registered. After delivery, some women just leave before the registrars come for registration. During immunisation, and other health campaigns, these unregistered children can be registered. This is what the MoU takes care of.


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