In Nigeria today, child trafficking remains one of the worst cross-border crimes taking place regularly according to report from the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Nigeria (NAPTIP). Report from the agency reveals that traffickers often travel with the children using fake birth registration papers and posing as the parents. In this interview with Franka Osakwe, a child protection specialist with UNICEF Abuja, Sharon Oladiji, explains how birth registration with the National Population Commission (NpopC) can help reduce this crime. Excerpt.
What is the difference between other birth registration and NpopC registration?
When you give birth to a child in a hospital and the hospital open a register and record it there, that is not birth registration. When you give Birth to a child and record it in church or any other place, that is also not birth registration. Birth registration is when you register the birth of a child in a register supported by NpopC and the child is issued with the certificate.
NpopC Birth registration is an official recording of the birth of a child in an administrative context, recognised by the government. Giving a child an identity is the first right of the child, and when a child is not registered, there is no record of the child anywhere- the child is seen as non-existent because there is no record of him or her anywhere. And if the government is planning for children in the state by perhaps creating schools or health interventions, because there is no record of the child, that child will not be included. When anything happens to the child, he or she just die and that’s the end. This is not good for the country. Again, because some children are not registered, there is no provision for their future so when they graduate, there is no work for them. This is one of the reasons we have so much unemployed young people today.
I understand that birth registration can help prevent child trafficking. Can you explain how?
We have found out that when people want to traffick young children, they don’t always have correct papers so they sometimes go and get fake papers. This has been our experience in the past. When a human trafficker wants to travel with a young child and presents a fake birth certificate at the embassy, because the national population Commission birth certificate is recognized nationwide, it will be verified by the immigration service. This has saved the lives of so many young children in the past.
What other protection benefits can be derived from birth registration?
Under the child protection law, we find that children without birth certificates sometimes are thrown into adult jail when they commit the offence because they don’t have a birth certificate. But through the birth registration exercises, we are conducting in some places like Lagos, we hope to prevent this in future.
Is there any problem with the use of court affidavit in place of birth registration?
We must admit that the use of affidavit for age declaration is susceptible to fraud because it is not recorded in the government database and cannot be verified. In the civil service, for instance, you find out that people who are 50 years old and above and about to retire can easily falsify their age by doing age declaration using court affidavit. Because of this, a whole lot of people in the civil service job are not coming out so the young people who should be there are not getting a job. This is why birth registration should be given priority in this country. You find out that age has to do with everything in life; schooling, work, marriage, death, and everything in life. So if we do not register our child properly with NpopC, we are doing a disservice to our children. Birth registration helps with planning, we have seen cases wherein a local government there are about 20 schools but no children to attend the schools. In other places, there are children but not enough schools. This is because when they were planning the infrastructure, they didn’t put into consideration the number of children that should be attending the schools.
Will you say that Nigeria is behind in birth registration when compared to other countries?
Nigeria is not behind in birth registration but we are not just doing enough. We may attribute that to; the massive population of the country, the insufficient workforce in Nigeria, hard to reach areas and poor areas where some parents don’t even know the importance of birth registration. But amidst this difficult programming environment, we can say that we have moved a bit from where we were in the last five years to where we are today.
I understand that UNICEF has been doing a lot to support birth registration in Nigeria. Can you tell us more about the UNICEF birth registration programme?
UNICEF has supported the building capacity of NpopC, we have helped in training the registers and build their capacity, we have been able to create monitoring tools to track the number of children registered, build media creation and awareness in other to improve knowledge on birth registration, we have supported interoperability of birth registration with other sectors like education, traditional rulers and policymakers, among others.
The impact of the program?
We are seeing the number of registered children moving from five million to sixteen and above. But if you look at the number of registered under-five children (about 16 million), this is still not enough, it’s just about 50 percent of the number of children that should be registered. Still, efforts are ongoing to see that the number of registered children will keep increasing.
What is the ratio of registered boys to girls?
There’s a slight difference between the number of boys registered compared to girls but it’s not too bad except in one or two local government in Adamawa and federal capital territory Abuja, where we see marked differences but we are doing our possible best to see what is responsible for this gap. We have been able to do away with issues of social norms and male preference through advocacy strategies that we have embarked on over the years through the media.
Some of the bottlenecks?
The bottlenecks are the political will, the capacity of the current government to improve the number of birth registers. We have only about four thousand registers in a country of about 180 million people. We have an insufficient workforce, insufficient infrastructure, poor resources, we have big differences between the urban and rural area, birth registration not reaching people in hard to reach areas, parents lack awareness on birth registration, poverty, areas of insurgency, these are serious bottlenecks that are affecting birth registration process.
What is the way forward?
The government need to look at the importance of birth registration for development, for planning and data purposes. They should support NpopC in birth registration processes by increasing coverage and infrastructure, and be able to put birth registers across the country where we don’t have them. We need the traditional institutions, health educators, civil society, media to speak more and support civil registration and birth registration.
If we know the number of children we have, we can plan for them, and given the population explosion we have right now, there is need to do something fast about this.
What role can the state government play to ensure that birth registration takes place effectively in all states?
State governments need to sign the MOU between NpopC and the health sector, to support birth registration. So far, we have about five states that have not signed the MOU.
The people in the health sector are the first contact with the child at delivery. So there is a need for them to work with the registers and ensure that the child is registered. Some women after delivery will just leave before the registers come for registration. During immunization and other health campaigns, these children who are not registered can be registered. This is what the MoU takes care of.