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Corruption, inter-agency rivalry, poor funding discourage birth registration

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When Sharon Ojebuovboh’s younger brother gained admission into secondary school in October 2018, at the age of 11 years, he was asked to bring his birth certificate as part of the documents required before he could be admitted into the higher school.

Sharon’s husband, Ojebuovboh, went to the birth registration centre at Alimosho health centre, Lagos State, to get his in-law’s birth certificate done, but was told to pay N1,500 before he would be issued the certificate. Her husband, knowing that birth certificate is free, argued with the registrar, but didn’t win the argument.

Knowing that he needed the birth certificate urgently, he pleaded that he had only N1, 000, but all fell on deaf ears until hours were spent.

He was later asked to bring the N1, 000 on the condition that he wouldn’t disclose to anybody that he paid that particular amount for the certificate, which he agreed.

Sharon who narrated her husband’s ordeal to The Guardian also gave her own experience when she gave birth to her twins.

Some days after Sharon delivered her children, she went to immunise them as well as register their birth but was told to pay N1,000 for each of her children. This discouraged her as she went home with her children, having in mind that until she has money, she would not register their births.

She said: “My husband paid N1, 000 before he could get the birth certificate of my younger brother that was 11 years old, who gained admission into secondary school. The certificate was used in registering him in school. They initially told my husband it was N1, 500 and my husband had to beg continuously before the registrar agreed and collected the N1, 000 from him, telling my husband not to disclose to anyone that the birth certificate was done at the rate of N1, 000, because the fixed price was N1, 500.”

Sharon was happy when she finally registered the birth of her children, when they were 10 months old, saying, “Some times, I take my children to the clinic, thinking it is free so I could do this birth certificate for them, but it is not free. At the clinic, it is N1000, but when those workers were going house to house and were charging N500, we were happy that it was cheap and then I did it with my neighbours, that was when my twins were 10 months old.”

Mariam Yakubu has four children and has not registered the birth of any of them because she doesn’t have money to pay for their birth certificates.

She said: “I need a birth certificate for my four children. Since I gave birth to my firstborn, the registration center at Alimosho has been demanding money from me before they can issue a birth certificate to my children. Because of that, I have not been able to get my children’s births registered.

“My son is 10 years old now and I don’t have money to pay for these certificates. We heard it is free, but whenever we go there, they say we must pay N1, 000.”

Mariam revealed that: “Anytime school resumes they increase the price because they know parents will seek for it for their child to be enrolled in the academic session in schools.”

Kate’s experience is not different from others. While narrating her experience in getting the birth of her children registered at the Alimosho health centre, she was asked to pay N2, 000 for her older children, while the younger ones were charged N1, 000.

She said that while she was given the birth certificate, she was asked not to disclose the amount paid.

Meanwhile, Birth Registration is the official recording of a child’s birth in the civil register by the State or government authority. It is a permanent and official record that provides the first legal recognition of the child’s existence.

The Child’s Rights Act recognises every child’s right to a name, and holds that the birth of every child shall be registered in accordance with the provisions of the Birth and Death Act No. 62 of 1992, while the Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 7 states that: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name and the right to acquire a nationality.”

According to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), birth registration is a priority in the package of services that are provided for children at birth, while it provides free birth registration and certificate for every child in a country.

Also, in Nigeria, there are provisions in the current legislation for birth registration, which is compulsory, as the Federal Government’s decree No. 69 of 1992 on vital registration provides that the registrar of births “shall upon registering a birth deliver to the informant, free of charge, a certificate of birth provided that no such certificate shall be issued in the case of a still‐born birth.”

Also, the National Population Commission (NPopC), regarded as the official body that registers birth and death in Nigeria, states that birth certificate is free for children from 0-day to 17 years, after which a price is paid for people above that age for attestation of birth.

But this is not the case with millions of children, who are just like Yakubu’s children that have remained unregistered till date and without identity, despite birth registration and certificate being made free. This has, however, denied children of their rights to be identified at a bona fide citizen in their country, as many families that barely earn a living are discouraged with the fees attached to it.

According to UNICEF’s report, about seven million children are born in Nigeria yearly, which is almost equal to the total population of Sierra Leone (7.8million, according to data by the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division).

The agency also projected that with the increasing birth rate; Nigeria could hit 136 million births by 2030. Of this large population of births recorded yearly, about 17 million children are not registered. That is, they have no form of identity as a bona fide citizen of the country and in legal terms, they do not exist, as stated by UNICEF.

Further estimate shows that for every 10 Nigerian children under five years, seven have no birth records.
Illegal charges for birth registration and certificate

The Guardian found that fees charged at birth registration centres vary, depending on the age of the child and the urgency of the certificate, especially when used to gain admission into secondary schools.

For babies who are days old, the cost is between N500 to N1, 000, depending on how well you negotiate. The cost for children who are months old is N1, 000, for children below 10 years; it is N1, 500, while above 10 years, is from N2, 000 above.

This is, however, contrary to the provision of Act 62 of 1992, the National Population Commission and the UNICEF, which made it clear that birth registration and the certificate is free for children from 0 days to 17 years.

Reacting on the issue, the Head of Department, Vital Registration, Department National Population Commission, NPoPC Lagos State, Mr. Nwannekwu Ikechukwu, said the agency has received several reports and would penalise anyone found in the act.

He explained that initially, people were meant to pay N200, after 60 days of birth, but it was reviewed by the agency, as the turn up for birth registration was low, noting that nobody is expected to pay any fee for a birth certificate so long as the person is 17 years below.

“The issue of N200 when people come to register after 60 days of birth – we realised that the turn up was low and we decided that in order to make it accessible for everybody, UNICEF intervened and said that for now, it is free.

“If you read the constitution, the part that empowers us to register both birth and death states that both certificates should be issued by the National Population Commission free of charge,” he explained.

Speaking on illegal payment for birth registration and certificate, Ikechukwu said it is one of the challenges faced in Lagos State, noting that those who are extorted refuse to be witnesses against this act in order to help the commission sanction the culprits.

He said: “It is one of the challenges we are having in Lagos state because the birth registrars have come to a point that, no matter what you say or do, if you don’t pay they will not give you a certificate.

“These reports come to us, and if we summon a registrar to say a complaint was made against him where he collected money to issue a birth certificate, the first thing is that I have to prove that he indeed collected money.

“So if they ask me how did I hear that they were collecting money, I should be able to say somebody revealed it to us and the person can say it before the registrar. And if we get such persons – if they don’t lose their job, it will be by God’s grace.”

He said that these illegal fees on birth registration and certificate imposed on individuals contribute to the number of unregistered children.

Inter-agency rivalry
It was learnt that people did double birth registration due to that fact that the one issued by either the state or National Population Commission was superior to the other.

Meanwhile, the promulgation of Compulsory Registration of Births and Deaths Act No 69 of 1992, gave the National Population Commission the authority to register vital events, while the law also empowered the commission to establish vital registration system across the whole nation.

However, the mandate of NPopC was further strengthened and recognised under section 24 of the 3rd schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, of which within the same Constitution, the functions of Local Government Council were also indicated in the Fourth Schedule, as Section 1 (i) stipulated that LGAs have powers to register all births, deaths and marriages.”

Ikechukwu, who spoke at a two-day media workshop on the need to scale up birth registration in Lagos State, which was organised by the National Orientation Agency in collaboration with UNICEF, held in Oyo State, explained that the birth certificate from the NPopC is for the Federal Government, which is recognised both in Nigeria and other countries.

He said: “Before the National Population Commission came on board and then gave us this mandate, all local government doing the registration of birth issue this smaller certificate, so by the time they had empowered us, we took over and started giving the one that is recognised both in Nigeria and outside Nigeria.

“Any certificate issued by any state or church is just for record purpose. There are certain things even in Nigeria that you can’t use such certificate and people don’t know. What is happening now is that at times some people will get that of Lagos state and will still come back to us and obtain our own, there is nothing wrong with that.

“The only thing is that there is a place you present Lagos state own and they will not accept it, but there is no place you present that of the National Population Commission all over the world that it will not be accepted.”

On the issue of double registration, he said, “Lagos state birth registration is used to keep a record, to know how many people are in the state. It is not compulsory you get both certificates, but it is compulsory that a child gets a birth certificate from National Population Commission.

“However, we have presented the case to our headquarters and they are trying to see how they can present the case to the federal government, so that they can give a verdict, that it is either of the two certificates, so, we are working on it.”
Ikechukwu, however, noted that people would be denied visa if they do not get the new birth certificate with the stamp of National Population Commission.

Explaining further on the Lagos State birth certificate, Consultant/Resource Person for Children, Adeyinka Adefope, said, “If you are from Lagos State, you will understand that over time, in the days when Lagos used to give children scholarship or when you want to access some things that are meant for Lagos state indigenes, birth registration at the local government, stating that you are an indigene of the state is what was required.

“If you apply for anything in Lagos State, you are asked if you are from the state and your registration, that is what is expected. So it is totally different from the one issued by National Population Commission, which is federal. The other is specifically Lagos state. They are totally different, so if Lagos state is charging money for birth registration, it is different from the National Population Commission.”

In the same vein, the Head of Department, Vital Registration, Oyo State, Rasheed said the issue of double registration is not only in Lagos, but almost everywhere, noting “The problem lies in our constitution, which empowers us to issue birth certificate, so we cannot solve the issue of double registration here.”

Lack of funding
The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, Child Protection Specialist, Sharon Oladiji, noted that funding gap has slowed birth registration coverage in Nigeria that has about 17 million births not registered, and ranks second among the top 10 countries with the largest number of unregistered children globally, just after India that has 71 million.

This figures as revealed by the data from RapidSMS, a global birth registration platform, listed the countries and their figure of unregistered children according to their ranks to include, Pakistan 16 million, Ethiopia 13 million, Bangladesh 10 million, Democratic Republic of Congo eight million, Indonesia eight million, United Republic of Tanzania seven million, Uganda five million, Afghanistan three million.

She also disclosed that it has affected Lagos State that has about 1.4 million under-five children’s birth unregistered, according to the RapidSMS data.

Oladiji stressed that there limited resources available for birth registration, adding that the ad hoc registrars, that is, the non-permanent employees who are trained to perform registration duties, have suffered considerably from non-payment of their allowance due to non-release of the capital project funds by the Federal Government.

This, she noted, had resulted in a large cohort of under-five children, who have remained unregistered as well as huge problem with late registrations.

The UNICEF specialist said the huge funding gap has paved way for a lot of registrars’ poor performance and weak registration services due to lack of supervision and monitoring, as well as inability to provide physical spaces/office and equipment for many registrars in the Councils.

She said due to lack of finances for transportation, registrars covering very wide areas are expected to move from one registration point to another, using part of their “meagre salary” and are left with no logistic support.

Ikechukwu noted that due to lack of funds, the registrars engage in the practice of collecting money to register the birth and issue a birth certificate, so they could use the money to provide the necessary materials needed for registration and transportation to the various centres.

Other barriers to low birth registration coverage
Ikechukwu said the challenges facing low coverage of birth registration in the country are internally based, such as the attitude of NPopC staff, low morale of staff, insufficient workforce and resources.

He noted that there are few birth registrars covering very large catchment areas and population, as well as hard to reach and mountainous areas, operation of two parallel and competing systems of birth registration, and slow digitalisation process.

While the external factors, he said, include the inability of millions of under-five children to receive vaccines because they are unregistered due to inadequate birth registrars, lack of public awareness on the importance of birth registration, ingrained social and cultural beliefs that perpetuates non-registering births and deaths of children, as well as inability of the Nigerian Immigration Service to make birth certificate from the National Population Commission mandatory for issuing passport to children.

Oladiji disclosed that further challenges are insufficient birth registrars and registration centres, regular stock-outs of birth certificates, lack of tracking and accountability mechanisms, wide variation in the expected catchment per registrar, noting that on average, “one registration center may be responsible for less than 400 and another is expected to register more than 9000 births per year.”

Cost of unregistered birth of children
Ikechukwu stressed that the outcome of not registering the birth of a child indicates that there will be no official record of their full names, parents, place of birth, date of birth, and nationality, adding that their access to basic services is under threat.

He noted that their official invisibility increases their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation, which means that they do not exist in legal terms, as well as the violation of their rights, which will go unnoticed.

Implications to the country
Oladiji explained that when the birth registration system is weak across the board, the government would plan blindly, as well as their incapacity to generate relevant public health data and national estimate population planning.

“Registering birth and death helps us with census. There is none existing, evidence-based decision making is highly dependent on the existence of accurate census. Poorly functioning civil registration directly affects the exercise of basic human right. There is no accurate, regular and reliable statistics to boost the growth of the state.

“We have many graduates without jobs. People are going for positive support that will trigger increased birth registration, which will help policymakers to look at it as very important. But we cannot make good decisions, no one to provide jobs for the millions of the younger population.

“This is what is causing issues in Nigeria and Africa because when children are born, we don’t registered them, we don’t count them, we don’t plan for them. How then do you know the number of vaccines to give to children? Also, the immunisation, how do you know the age of the child before giving the medication? The children in school, how do you know how many are born this year to enable you to plan for a school building, teacher and others? How do they know the exact number of children out of school to enable the government to provide for the academic sector?

Benefits of birth registration
Ikechukwu stressed that the benefits of registering the birth of a child are immense, both to the individual and society, as it provides legal and documentary evidence to certify a person’s existence, age, parentage, birthplace, and nationality, as well as enable a person’s eligibility for health care, admission into school, voting, obtaining a passport, employment and marriage.

The Head of Department said it also monitors the incidences of child abuse, trafficking, early marriages, child labour and unlawful detention.

Other benefits to the individual, he said, include, “Providing legal evidence to the inheritance of property and the rights of surviving spouses to re-marry.”

Ikechukwu added that the society also benefits as it helps make available data on fertility and mortality disaggregated by age and gender, provides data on causes of death, as well as relative impact of specific diseases on mortality, which can lead to policy interventions, provide data for planning in health, education, social security and insurance among others.

He said most importantly, it provides indicators for monitoring population dynamics and development goals for Nigeria

“It is critical for the children in Lagos State for their survival, health, education, social services initiatives and development goals. Other benefits also include social information, ageing population and planning, education and community planning, child and parental programmes, economic information, population growth rate, ageing and economic impact, sub-regional growth and impact, legal and civil use, National identity confirmation, citizenship and issuance of immigration passports, delineation of electoral wards and entities, fraud prevention and control systems,” he noted.

Ikechukwu also noted that birth registration data, when correctly collected, can play an important role in the planning of a country’s economic and social development, while disaggregated population data can help identify geographic, social, economic, and gender disparities within national boundaries.

“Registering the child will enable Government to plan and implement basic social services, such as health, education and employment 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,” he added.

Solutions
While experts are of the view that increasing birth registration will help in economic development, they, however, propose that Nigeria should learn from other countries that have succeeded in scaling up birth registration and as well apply their models to help Nigeria move forward.

Experts stressed that Nigeria should learn lessons from countries like Zambia and Thailand, while working toward a free and universal birth registration strategies as both countries have formulated and enacted laws, policies and standards for free and universal birth registration, in line with international norms, such as integrating birth registration into the national health system and endorsing an early childhood development policy that focuses on equity.

Also in Albania and Congo, where there is improve service delivery, modernisation and computerisation of birth registration systems were adopted, as non-governmental partners were mobilised to provide birth registration paperwork and services to communities and other marginalised groups, whose rates of birth registration fall below the national average, which according to Oladiji saw massive birth registration.

Oladiji said for Nigeria to have high record and coverage of birth registrations, the government must reinforce the waiver of fees to encourage parents to register their children on time, such as those living in isolated areas poorly served by government services or who cannot afford the cost of registration.

“Introducing fees will further limit the already low level of birth registration coverage. Children from poor and uneducated parents living in urban slums, very rural and hard to reach communities will never be registered, counted or accounted for to access social services,” she lamented.

She also added that there should be a realignment of the current legislation to harmonise the two parallel systems with the possibility of establishing a specific legal framework to govern the relationship between NPopC and Local Government Area (LGA) registration systems and to amend the Constitution to deal with the current parallel birth registration mandates and systems.

“That issuance of certificates become the dual role of both the NPopC and that of the Local Government office as opposed to both institutions issuing two different certificates. That both institutions will be mandated to invest in a single arrangement to issue birth certificates and possibly- this will deal with the two parallel systems,” she said.
Oladiji, who said the UNICEF is working towards registering one million births in Lagos State, said there must be appropriate funding to cater for the workforce size, operational costs (such as transportation), infrastructure, monitoring and logistics costs- with the allocation arranged according to an assessment of need, rather than a standard payment to each state office.

“Expand birth registration services in LGAs and Increase registrar’s resources to strengthen collaboration with the health and education sector, including making available birth registration services in all primary health centers and ECD classes,” she concluded.


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