Despite having a population of about 200 million people, not many Nigerians know about birth registration or the advantage it affords their children. This has in no small measure contributed to high child mortality and out of school children in the country. Kuni Tyessi writes
There was filth from rotten onions in a dirty polythene bags of sachet water and others that were used to package soup ingredients. Also seen were oily papers which had completed it’s mission having wrapped several barbeques, as well as some disposable plates littered on the plastered floor decorated with dried sputum from fruit sellers and wheel barrow boys, as well as dust.
Close-by was a gutter with stagnant green smelly water and thick algae by its sides, serving as breeding grounds for mosquitoes, as well as the hideout of rodents and sometimes their grave site. Its sight was an eyesore with a stench that aroused nausea in one.
This was where Blessing Okoro had spread her wrapper, by the eastern gate of a new plaza situated on the busy Aso Road, off the Abuja-Keffi Highway in Nasarawa State, and on it was a set of triplets, a boy and two girls who were delivered on April 26, 2019. Their mother who has no employment of any kind, and who already has two children, has a husband who is a bus conductor. The triplets who were displayed on the ground were expected to appeal on the emotions of passersby and gain their sympathy.
There was a bowl placed by the edge of the road, some centimeters away from them and in it were all denominations of the Nigerian currency, except for one thousand naira note. While some dropped their contributions and said a short prayer for the babies, others attempted to play with them by holding their hands, a gesture which was quickly but politely rebuffed by their mother, for fear that the unimaginable harm might be done to the triplets through unseen means, and without a trace of the culprit.
Okoro, who had given birth to the babies through ceasearean section at Happy Home, a hospital at Nyanya, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory, said birth certificates were given to each of the triplets at no cost, save for the N50,000 which was paid to bring out the babies.
For the registration of the babies, Okoro seemed confused, as the issuance of birth certificates equaled to birth registration. She didn’t visit any of the National Population Commission (NPC) centres, neither was there the commission’s outlet in the hospital.
For Okoro, the birth certificates said it all and should serve as ticket to whatever future demands will be made, as long as it had the names of the children, their date of birth, time, weight and place of birth, as well as the names of their parents and signature of an administrative officer in the hospital. Worse still, birth registration seemed alien to her due to the erroneous belief that the identity of the children was hidden in that of their parents and for what benefit is birth registration?
Right to Birth Registration
Every child born in Nigeria has the right to have his/her birth registered in Nigeria. This is in accordance with the law. Furthermore, Nigeria in 2003 adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the convention of the rights of the child. Although the law was passed at the federal level, it is only effective if state assemblies enact it. So far, only 12 states have domesticated it.
There are several people like Okoro who are not enlightened enough to know about the importance of birth registration and to demand for it within the first 60 days of the child’s physical existence. This is not to say that after 60 days has elapsed, nothing can be done as such will be termed as late registration which often comes with a fine. They do not appreciate its future value, hence the lukewarm attitude.
This is not because they are not educated, but because they need to hustle to feed their children and going for such after leaving the hospital facility, feels like a waste of time and with the consolation that what would be, would be, irrespective of whether or not the children have been duly registered.
Gains of Birth Registration
Many do not know that birth registration secures a child’s dentity, nationality and name. They do not know that its documentation will serve as ticket to access quality healthcare and education. Although, this might not be in effect at the moment, it is one of the basic requirements for obtaining a job in later years, especially in the public sector.
They do not know that the facilities where the children have been delivered are expected to have NPC outlets which should capture the children into the national data. With Okoro’s ignorance, it simply means that even hospitals and healthcare centres are suffering from the short sightedness of understanding the importance of this national value which is one of the cardinal rights of a child as adopted by the Child’s Rights Convention (CRC).
Okoro, like several others too, does not also know that her triplets have the right to life and to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which serves as one of the core principles of the convention, albeit their exposure to the unhygienic environment.
Birth registration therefore becomes the only acceptable standard in which records of birth can be recognised, and it remains a permanent documentation for the child.
Emphasis on Child Rights Act
Little wonder, the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF) through its chief of communications, Eliana Drakopoulous has made it a duty to consistently task government, especially at the state level on the need to domesticate and adhere to the Child Rights Act, emphasising that with this in place, the country stands to gain future benefits especially in education and healthcare, amongst several others.
Emphasising that there is the need for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be delivered by 2030, the children’s fund says there are many areas where the government needs to make progress and one of such is in birth registration, noting that there are far too many children in Nigeria who are not in school simply because they have not been captured, thereby frustrating adequate plans towards free basic education which is government’s responsibility towards them.
To commemorate the forthcoming Child Rights Convention at 30, she said all Nigerians need to be aware about the convention of the rights of the child, which she said is not about children but also about the adults who are around them.
She disclosed that even though there has not been a single country that has been able to achieve a hundred per cent in the adherence of the rights of every child, Drakopoulous said the rights include access to basic education, healthcare including vaccination, birth registration, good food and play, amongst others.
She said: “Things will get better once children are being adequately registered. It will be very important for them to be able to access education, adequate healthcare and vaccination. We will really want to see this area working and stepped up, and soon every child in Nigeria will have their birth registered.
“All Nigerians need to be aware about the convention of the rights of the child. It is not just about children or children’s rights. Yes, children need to know their rights, but adults who are around them also need to know those rights. These are parents, teachers, lawyers, judges, government officials, etc. Everyone needs to know the rights children have and to be sure they are implemented.”
In legal parlance, the saying “ignorance is not an excuse” is a cliché which has made many to consciously and unconsciously do what is right in the eyes of the law. In the face of birth registration, ignorance shouldn’t also be an excuse especially when weighed with its numerous benefits which include access to basic education and healthcare including vaccination, as well as several others which add up to the fulcrum of the child’s dignity, thereby making him/her completely human.
With the assurance from UNICEF that the registration of every child is possible in Nigeria, all adults and relevant bodies must then take the issue more seriously with such optimism. Only time will however tell how effective this will be.