Birth registration is defined as the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of births, as provided by decree or regulation in accordance with the legal requirements in each country.
A UNICEF report tagged Generation 2030 discovered that among the 10 countries responsible for Africa’s population explosion in absolute terms between 2015 and 2050, Nigeria will have additional 257 million inhabitants followed closely by Ethiopia with 89 million and Democratic Republic of the Congo with 84 million.One fifth of the continent’s births by the end of 2015, were in Nigeria alone, accounting for five per cent of all global births. It also follows up with an estimated 136 million births to take place in Nigeria between 2015 to 2030, which is 19 per cent of all African babies and 6 per cent of the global total.
It has also been discovered that 7 out of every 10 Nigerian children that are at least five years old, have no birth records. What this means is that even though they have names, their identities are questionable.
Statistics from Nigeria’s Birth Registration Dashboard show that in 2016, in 24,890 health centers across the country, birth registration activities took place in only 30 per cent or 7,499 of the health facilities. Unlike the 24,890 in 2016, in 2017, there were 24,705 health centers with birth registration services available in only 29 per cent or 7,029 health facilities with 71 per cent of the total health facilities not conducting routine birth registration services across the country. Also, the dashboard showed that in 2017, only 32 per cent under-1 and 8 per cent under-5 births were registered.
Thus, millions of children are consistently missed in this most important exercise, constituting a major reason for very low registration rates of newborn and under-1 birth.
In her presentation entitled: UNICEF African Generation Report: Implication for birth and death registration in Nigeria and Africa, Mrs Sharon Oladiji further explained that the profile of children whose births were not registered, by implication, have no official record of their full names, parents, place of birth, date of birth and their nationality.
Oladiji said such children’s access to basic services was under threat and that their official ‘invisibility’ increases their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation…”in legal terms, they do not exist and violations of their rights are going unnoticed,” she said.
She also said the recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS, indicates that 46.8 per cent of under-5 were registered between 2016/2017 following support from UNICEF.
She further traced the poor birth registration on internal institutional challenges of the National Population Commission, NpopC. She identified some internal institutional challenges on the part of NpopC to include; attitude of staff, low morale of staff, insufficient workforce and resources, too few registrars covering very large areas or populations including hard-to-reach areas, operation of two parallel and competing systems for birth registration and slow digitalisation process, among others.
In response, the Assistant Director at the National Population Commission, NpopC, Hapsatu Husaini Isiyaku in her presentation titled ‘Historical Perspectives of Birth Registration in Nigeria’, said the major reason why the children were not registered was either due to ignorance of parents and care givers or the very rural communities have no knowledge of birth registration.
According to her, about 62 per cent of birth occurred at home, only 35 per cent of births in Nigeria are delivered in health facilities. She also noted that the lack of completeness of civil registration was impacting on the availability of complete data, the quality of the information therein and the use of these data for reliable decision-making processes.
She disclosed that birth registrations are manually collected and there was inadequate office accommodation for the registrars.
Other challenges she identified include; inadequate storage facilities for the working materials, many localities sparsely distributed in the area hence the need for logistics become apparent to allow registrars navigate catchment areas with less difficulties.
She proposed the urgent need to capture birth registration data in the facility level data tools and in the national DHIS and HMIS tools, “Promote documentation of birth registration services and strengthen integration efforts with the health sector and other convergent programmes.
She also announced the efforts of the Child Protection Section to strengthen community level approach, by focusing birth registration efforts in the first half of the year on community, wards and LGA intervention during the NPopC EAD process in 15 states.
“This approach and process enabled birth registration of at least 680,657 under-5 children in 15 LGAs, 150 wards and 1,041 communities, whose births would never have been registered. Currently, 3,411,419 (females/1,652,248 and males/1,759,171) children in different age bands have been registered in the first half of 2018.
She said NpopC has produced IEC materials in six languages (Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Pidgin, Kanuri and English) to promote countrywide birth registration campaign.
As a parting note, she added; “the NpopC collaboration with UNICEF should be sustained. The Commission should provide adequate office accommodation and storage facilities. There is urgent need to migrate from analogue to digital registration.”
This was during a media dialogue in Kano State organised by UNICEF and the Federal Ministry of Information.