Low registration of births
Revelation by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that less than 50 percent of children below five years in Nigeria were registered at birth is discouraging and negative for a country embattled with insecurity, and lacking basic data and information for development purposes. The news is a pointer to the disorganization prevalent in the country, which over the years has been compounding the country’s slow pace at concrete growth. Clearly, public officials charged with keeping statistics for national planning are guilty of dereliction of their duty.
Data gathering for national development planning, necessary as it is for an ambitious country desirous of keeping pace with global movement, remains a herculean task as controversies, confusion, lackadaisical attitude and inconsistency bedevil what ordinarily should be a routine exercise. The development explains why there is no national database, which could serve as a reference point in development planning. The National Population Commission (NPC), which has statutory responsibility for population matters including birth and vital registration, should stop failing in its duty and rise to the challenge of birth registration in the country.
The UNICEF made the disclosure on the occasion of the World Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Day held recently. The Day is observed to help improve public awareness of the importance of making everyone visible through universal birth registration and certification. According to UNICEF, children in Africa have the lowest birth registration rate globally, with Nigeria accounting for 11 percent of the rate in West Africa. “In Nigeria, more than 50 per cent of the births of children under 5 remain unregistered. Globally, the births of 166 million children under 5 have never been recorded,” it said.
In Africa, only 44 per cent of children are registered at birth and millions of deaths also go uncounted each year, says the world body. Nigeria alone accounts for 11 per cent of unregistered children in West Africa. Consequently, Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Nigeria country Representative, asked the federal government to ensure legal identity for all including birth registration by 2030 in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), emphasizing that “every child counts – and we must ensure that we count every child, so that they can best benefit from important services like health and education.”
It is less than impressive, and something of national shame, that late in the 21st century, a country that has enough resources, human and material, to lead the continent is continually found wanting in critical areas. While it is instructive that UNICEF said the National Population Council (NPC) in partnership with Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) entities has created a Roadmap for Digital Universal Birth Registration, the NPC ought before now to have focused and achieved greater result on birth registration, considering that it is an area critical to the performance of its core duty of keeping demographic information. In fact, birth registration ought to be central to its population projection statutory assignment.
Birth registration is the first step towards recognising a child’s inalienable right, as a human being and Nigeria should be in the forefront of achieving universal registration of births. It would appear that one of the problems is the charging of fees, directly or indirectly, by government officials from locals seeking to register the birth of their children. By law, birth registration is supposed to be free in Nigeria. But in most parts of the country, this important task of documenting the birth of precious new citizens of Nigeria has been taken over by touts and profiteers who collect dubious fees from unsuspecting parents in collaboration with NPC officials.
The Federal Government’s Decree No. 69 of 1992 on vital registration states that registration shall be carried out free of charge within a period of 60 days from the date of birth of a child. The law presupposes that every child born in Nigeria has the right to be registered. Apart from charging of illegal fees, other problems uncovered to be confronting seamless registration of birth include limited financial support for birth registration processes, insecurity, shortage of manpower, lack of awareness, illiteracy and decline in women’s access to maternity centres because of increased poverty and high medical costs.
It is again noteworthy that UNICEF took up the issue with lawmakers at the National Assembly (NASS) urging them to address the issue before it gets worse; advising also the prohibition of payment for birth registration not only in Nigeria but also in other countries like Senegal and Rwanda. The NPC leadership should dwell on realizing the target of birth registration in the country. Charging poor Nigerians any fee, under any disguise will not help the attainment of that target. What is at play certainly is blatant corruption being perpetrated with the support of hospitals, health centres, and registrations centres with nothing being done about it.
Culprits in this regard need to be identified and sanctioned appropriately; while relevant government and non-government agencies such as the National Orientation Agency (NOA), local governments and the Ministry of Information at the federal and states should enlighten members of the public on the importance of birth registration and the non-requirement of fees payment for the exercise.