“We are not interested in your Birth Certificate, what we are interested in for now is that government should give us a bridge and fix these roads”
Those were the exact words of Chief Abayomi Aluko, the Akinrogun of Totowu as he pointed to me the neglect that they have faced in the 12 villages making up the Ejila Awori in Ado odo Local Government Area of Ogun state.
It is a fact that children from age zero to 17years are entitled to be registered and issued a birth certificate free of charge at registration centers located at Local Government Headquarters, Public health centers, General Hospitals, Town Halls Secretariats or any other strategic places designed for the purpose of registering births but this is not the case because 70% of Children in Nigeria still do not have their births registered (Source: NDHS 2013).
This is a worrisome development because it simply means that these children simply do not exist and there is no official record of their full names, parent’s names, place of birth, date of birth, and their Nationality. This simply means that they don’t exist.
For the fact that their births are not registered, their access to basic services is under threat, increasing their official ‘invisibility’ with their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation heightened. Experts believe that in legal terms they do not exist and this makes a violation of their rights easy for those who take advantage of these children.
A visit to 2 communities in Egan Igando in Lagos and Totowu, a part of Ejila Awori in Ogun state clearly showed that some residents don’t know about the benefits or importance of an authentic birth certificate.
It is important for citizens to know that it provides legal and documentary evidence to certify a person’s existence, their age, parentage, birth place, and Nationality. It enables a person’s eligibility for health care, admission into school, voting, obtaining a passport, employment and part of the documentation for marriage.
The Birth Certificate helps check incidences of child abuse, child trafficking, early marriages, child labour, unlawful detention, while records of deaths/death certificates provides legal evidence to inheritance of property and the rights of surviving spouses to re-marry.
A registrar of the National Population Commission at Egan Igando Primary Health Care, Atolagbe Adebayo agreed to the huge benefits of birth registration for children and said his center in a month, registers between 300-500 children.
“I enlighten them about the benefits of Birth Registration and why they should not rely on the certificates they get from churches mosques or private clinics”
“Sometimes it is difficult to get these people to relax and get their children registered because they think the process and the certificate is fake since it is free so I try very hard to make them understand that it is free and very authentic from the Federal Government”
Adebayo complained about the lack of conducive work environment and tools to perform their responsibilities and all these he said contributed to the low morale of staff and made it difficult to follow-up with the people who need convincing about the registration of their children.
“We have resorted to creating awareness for Birth registration on Market days when we can reach out to a large number of women and mothers who come to the market from hard to reach and mountainous areas”.
The challenge of convincing people to embrace this birth registration and collection of the Birth Certificate from the National Population Commission is also evident in Ejila Awori area, where the Akinrogun of Totowu said as a community head working with the Baale, they need to be carried along on the benefits so that they can encourage the people of the community to collect it.
“We don’t have a functional health center here where our people can go and get all these information you are giving us here, now and our people cross that water to Isuti in Lagos to go and register their children or even give birth, politicians only come to us during election and after that they forget us”
“There are many children here who are not registered because we don’t understand how this will benefit the lives of our children”
Other residents in the Totowu area like Blessing Promise said it cost her N550 to register her child in a local health center in Igando and she did it because her father did it for her and she doesn’t see any other reason apart from that age long tradition of having a paper identification.
For others, they complained about the lack of access to them since not many people will like to come by a boat to their community and the feel abandoned.
“We are okay with the state government’s Birth Registration/Certificates and we don’t think the Federal Government Birth Certificate is necessary because if they want us to have it they will remember us here in Totowu and give us a Health Center because we have to cross this water to register our children in Lagos”
Currently, eight of the 10 countries with the lowest levels of birth registration are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Nigeria having the largest population of unregistered children with only 8% of under-5 children officially registered in Nigeria. ( http:br.rapidsmsnigeria.org)
Unicef Child Protection Specialist, Sharon Oladiji said the development can be attributed to parents living in remote locations, insecurity and manpower shortage amongst other factors militating against the birth registration of children across the 36 states of the federation.
According to Oladiji, birth registration data, when correctly collected, can play an important role in the planning of a country’s economic and social development. It will provides data for planning in Health, Education, insurance and also serve as indicators for monitoring population dynamics and development goals.
It is worthy of note that the Birth Registration provides data on fertility and mortality, provides data on causes of death, relative impact of specific diseases on mortality which can lead to policy interventions.
Some limitations have been pointed out as also hindering love birth registration in the country with education actors not showing interest in supporting NpopC to ensure school age children have birth certificates.
Some Government institutions unfortunately require presentation of sworn affidavit which many times is open to manipulation, as evidence of date of birth certificate from the NpopC.
It has also become difficult to engage the traditional/religious leaders who are trusted members of their communities, because the Registrars at the Primary health care complained that many residents said they already had the birth certificates from their churches and private clinics so it is difficult to influence and inspire their followers to become vanguards for birth registration through the proper channel.
To deal with this apathy by citizens refusing to get their children registered and obtain the Birth Certificates, the National Population Commission needs to hit the ground running with sensitization and awareness campaigns to enlighten the people about the need for a change in perception. There should also be a holistic approach to the conversations about birth registration which should be backed with laws to deal with defaulters.