In a 10-day exercise in five densely populated local government areas in Lagos State, Rebecca Ejifoma, who visited the LGAs, reports that over 600,000 children aged zero to 17, who were formally unregistered, were officially added to the state’s birth registration to boost their access to basic amenities and essential programmes like child protection, health care and education that help secure their most fundamental rights
In spite of how remarkably advanced the world is, not many people in Lagos State appreciate the relieving significance of birth registration, which is the first legal proof of identity. For some it is inconsequential while a few others instinctively let it slide, thereby shutting out the children from countless national benefits.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), birth registration is the process of recording a child’s birth. It is a permanent and official record of a child’s existence and provides legal recognition of that child’s identity. This takes place within the first 60 days of a child’s birth.
Of course, it is carried out by officials at the National Population Commission (NPC) in various local government areas like Amuwo-Odofin, Ifako-Ijaye, Ikorodu, Mushin, Alimosho, and Ojo among others in Lagos State and across the nation.
Now, while the fringe benefits of birth registration undeniably spans beyond gratuity and passport application, many Nigerians are yet to embrace it. Some have blamed several reasons including ignorance, acute economic meltdown resulting in demanding schedules for not registering their wards.
One of such women, who complained of toiling day and night, is Mrs. Yemisi Aiyenimoro. The 38 years old and mother of three children – aged 15, 13 and three months old – said time was a huge hurdle for her. Following the mop-up programme powered by UNICEF, she registered her last child.
She narrated: “I’m always busy. That is why I just registered my last baby through the Mop-up programme. I was supposed to register when I went for immunisation but unfortunately that day, they called me for my business.” And when she heard of the birth registration in her vicinity, she sprinted out with her kid. “I’ve registered my baby now,” she expressed.
Aiyenimoro didn’t reserve her excitement. She went as far as calling her friends to come take advantage of the door-to-door exercise. “I called them and told them that they should come, that they’re doing free birth registration and most of them did their children and that’s how they registered.”
Interestingly, but for the mop-up exercise, the mother of three admitted that her child wouldn’t have gotten a birth certificate. “Definitely”, she told THISDAY, “I won’t because most of the time I’m always in my shop from 6am to 7.30pm. It’s even one of my girls that takes my baby to hospital for immunisation.”
Just like Aiyenimoro, several other women have their fingers in every pie daily, hence, have little or no time to spare. Mrs. Abosede Adetula is also another mother. She has three and resides in Ijaniki area of Lagos. The 30 years old business woman has three children – seven years old twins and a two-year-old.
She recalled how officials from the local government trickled into her street in Ojo. “It made things easy for me. I didn’t pay anything for my three kids. I went ahead to register my sister’s children on holidays with me,” she acknowledged.
Truly, Adetula admitted she was oblivious about the subject, she said she joined the bandwagon when others bolted out with their kids. “I took the advantage when the opportunity presented itself. It was there I learnt the importance of BR. So I’m happy my children are duly recognised.”
Now while others neither registered their children nor had a hint on its value, Mrs. Olayemi Adedeji had earlier got a drift of it. The 48 years old mother of four expressed: “I registered all my children when I had them. They are aged 18, 16, 14, and 13. But I found out my sister’s four children, who are with me this holiday season, were not registered.”
Without hesitation, Adedeji took the kids out. “My sister’s children came from Osun state. When I found out they had not been registered, I ensured I did the needful.”
Birth Registration Comptrollers
In the words of the Comptroller/DCR of Ojo Local Government, National Population Commission (NPC), Olayele Ajifowowe, assembling people is a herculean task.
He noted that thanks to the mop-up, they accessed communities and set up different centres. Consequently, in Ojo alone, Ajifowowe and his team registered over 36,000 children in 10 days. This considerable increase, he conceded, was because it was for free and a doorstep approach. “Some of these people were so happy that even the government remembers them.”
While admitting also that parents, especially mothers, seldom turned up with their wards at the LGA on a regular day, he said they had never seen as many numbers as they got during the mop up exercise.
Advantages of Birth Registration
With the mop-up exercise, UNICEF hopes to achieve universal birth registration and a legal identity for every child by 2030. Hence, it clarified that birth registration helps protect migrant and refugee children from family separation. Without it, these children face a greater risk of statelessness due to lack of legal proof of nationality or legal ties to any country.
Ajifowowe also pointed out that it could be used for insurance policy, Lagos state registration residence permit, National Identity Number (NIN), Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA), and passport and a handful of others. “Even when you want to process your gratuity upon retirement you will present your birth certificate.”
He, however, bemoaned the crippling gap in awareness. He solicited more jingles and seminars and “I implore the government and UNICEF if they can embark on training and retraining of the officers. Some of us have a large area to cover, like riverine communities we access on speed boats”.
In the words of the Ojo Comptroller, UNICEF is doing well. This, the Comptroller NPC of Mushin, Mr Okesanja Isiaka, chorused. “UNICEF supplied the materials so we employed people outside to execute this. We captured 58,916 children and issued up to 100 certificates daily. It’s been an excellent exercise.”
As a result of the 10 days exercise, the Comptroller outlined that Mushin recorded a significant increase across its centres – Ilupeju, Itire, Omo Dudu, and Amukoko.
Dangers of Non-registration
Without a birth certificate, children are said to be invisible to their governments, says UNICEF. This means they may miss out on essential programmes like child protection, health care and education that help secure their most fundamental rights.
UNICEF further warned that because children without a birth certificate are unable to prove their age, they face battles like violence, abuse, and exploitation, risk being trafficked, recruited into armed forces, or forced into early marriage or child labour.
Hurdles in Birth Registration
Mr Nwanukwu Ikechukwu, the Deputy Director of NPC and Head of Department of Vital Registration Lagos State, bemoaned that most parents don’t take birth registration seriously. “They believe until there’s a need for it, maybe to go to the embassy, get an international passport or enrol their children in school.
The deputy director also claimed that some registrars in their desperation to earn more cook names and issue ghost certificates. “So, if we pay N80 per registration and you have 1,000 registrations in 10 days that’s N80,000. We caution them against this misconduct.”
He, however, compared the scenario in Nigeria to what is obtainable in other clans.
“Germany hasn’t done a census for over 10 years. They update the figures from birth registration because once you give birth in any hospital there and then you are registered and given birth certificate and the data is updated. The same thing in the UK and other advanced countries,” he commended.
Five LGAs Record over 600,777 Children
“In Ifako and Amuwo-Odofin, we registered 295,432 children and issued certificates. In Ikorodu 152,132 children were captured and certificates issued. We got about 123,513 registrations from Mushin and Ojo. But what I can’t say categorically is each,” he said.
For Ikechukwu, they encountered minor challenges from the adoc themselves and the community. “Birth certificates are free but at times we still hear that some charge money to issue certificates. I caution them.”
UNICEF Representative and Child Protection Specialist, Mr. Dennis Onoise, affirmed their support for LGAs to ensure birth registration is carried out.
He emphasised: “Particularly when studies are carried out regarding birth registration in Nigeria, we realised that children are not registered when they are born. So often, we have people going for the declaration of age. That’s why it became necessary for us to support stakeholders and the government of the country to ensure it’s done.”
According to statistics by UNICEF, out of the 166 million children without a legal identity in the world, half live in just five countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Just like a few other comptrollers, Onoise noted that in Europe, Sweden, and Norway mothers go to sign birth or antenatal. Once she registers, that child is noted as a human being even before birth. “From that moment the mother starts receiving some social welfare for the child,” he chipped in.
Meanwhile, Onoise cited that that Lagos is now number three for under five years on the chart. “Last year, it was number nine or 10. For under one year, they are reading number four. We told ourselves there was a need to do proper awareness and campaign, so we involved the national population commission to help put things together and identify communities.”
For UNICEF, it is time to tap into technology. “We are looking at a system, hoping to start next year, where we will train people to use text messages to register birth,” he told THISDAY. “So you don’t necessarily have to go to the LGA just from the comfort of your home.”
Indeed, while such upgrade requires a lot of investment, UNICEF is certain that more children are going to be registered in the state once this gets off the ground in 2022. This, he believes, will shell out more suitable life for the children.
Without a birth certificate, children are said to be invisible to their governments, says UNICEF. This means they may miss out on essential programmes like child protection, health care and education that help secure their most fundamental rights