17m Nigerian Children Uncounted, Says UNICEF

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By Kuni Tyessi

Despite significant increase in birth registration from 30 per cent to 43 per cent between 2013-2018, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that 17 million children under the age of five are yet to be captured in the national data.

The UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Hawkins, who stated this in a press statement signed by UNICEF communications specialist, Dr. Geoffrey Njoku, said children who have not been captured are often excluded from accessing education, health care and other vital services, and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

He added that barriers to high registration coverage in Nigeria included the operation of two parallel and competing systems for birth registration at federal and state levels, insufficient birth registrars, lack of public awareness on the importance of birth registration for children, coupled with ingrained social beliefs that do not encourage the registration of children.

“The number of children whose births are officially registered has increased significantly in Nigeria from 30 per cent in 2013 to 43 per cent in 2018 by integrating birth registration into health services. Still, about 17 million children under-5, or 1 in 5, remain unregistered, according to a new report on global birth registration released by UNICEF.
“We have come a long way in Nigeria and ensuring that children are registered through the health services is making a big difference – but still too many children are slipping through the cracks,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

“These children are uncounted and unaccounted for – nonexistent in the eyes of the government or the law. Without proof of identity, children are often excluded from accessing education, health care and other vital services, and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

“Barriers to high registration coverage in Nigeria include the operation of two parallel and competing systems for birth registration at federal and state levels, insufficient birth registrars, lack of public awareness on the importance of birth registration for children, coupled with ingrained social beliefs that do not encourage the registration of children,” Hawkins said.

Similarly, the UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Ms. Marie-Pierre Poirier, stated that West and Central Africa under-five registration increased in 10 years from 41 per cent to 51 per cent, despite the multiple challenges the region is facing.

She said despite the progress, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind the rest of the world and some of the lowest levels of registration are found in Chad with 12 per cent and Guinea-Bissau with 24 per cent.

Meanwhile, in its charter titled “In Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030” UNICEF called for five actions to protect all children and this includes providing every child with a certificate upon birth, empower all parents, including single parents, regardless of gender, to register their children at birth and for free during the first year of life.

Others are to link birth registration to basic services, particularly health, social protection and education, as an entry point for registration, invest in safe and innovative technological solutions to allow every child to be registered, including in hard-to-reach areas, and to engage communities to demand birth registration for every child.