The births of nearly 230 million children under the age of five worldwide have never been officially recorded, says UNICEF. The Agency said only 30 per cent of births of Nigerian children below five had so far been registered.
The Deputy Country Representative of UNICEF Pernille Ironside made this known during the public presentation of "Impact Evaluation Report of UNICEF-Supported Birth Registration Programme in Nigeria (2012-2016)" on Monday, in Abuja.
Ironside said this was in spite of the clear importance of ensuring the registration of every child's birth, which was a critical part of UNICEF's four pillars of child rights of survival, development, protection and participation.
She noted that to achieve birth registration for all children in Nigeria, UNICEF had been working with the Nigerian Government to address systemic bottlenecks that impeded birth registration, with a view to achieving sustainable results for children.
"We found out that Nigeria's rapid population growth requires stronger efforts to ensure that birth registration can keep pace with that growth, especially in the under-five population.
"This finding points us in the right direction for our future work on this important issue and our work to deliver results for children and change children's lives for the better.
"In this year, the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which calls for every child to have their birth legality registered, UNICEF firmly pledges its continued commitment to support inter-agency collaboration to achieve accelerated birth registration, so that no child is left behind, " she said.
The UNICEF official explained that birth registration was the official recording of a child's birth by the government which established the existence of a child under the law and provides the foundation for safeguarding their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Ironside added that Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child specified that every child had the right to be registered at birth without any discrimination.
She emphasised that recording of births and deaths was essential for a modem administrative system which helped to create an inclusive society, protecting human rights, ensuring the proper delivery of public services and tackling inequalities.
"A reliable and well-functioning civic registration system is also crucial for monitoring our progress towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
"And the vital statistics that we gain from a civil registration system provides critical, up-to-date and accurate population-based data that is aggregated by sex, age and geographic location.
"This is essential for identifying all groups in need and where we need to put our efforts and resources, to make sure no one is left behind.
"It does this by helping us to monitor other targets of the 806s that are related to health, food security, clean water, education, migration and gender," Ironside said.
Alhaji Bashir Hassan, the Acting Chairman of National Population Commission (NpopC) restated the commission's commitment to providing an identity for every child through birth registration.
Hassan said the occasion offered the commission a unique opportunity to reiterate its resolve to providing the Nigerian child with an identity; and Rights as citizens through a sustained Birth Registration exercise.
He noted that the event was a turning point in the administration of birth registration in Nigeria, saying that the launch of this report, which was commissioned by UNICEF, would no doubt assist the commission.
He added that it would also highlight areas of success and challenges of civil registration and vital statistics in Nigeria.
Hassan stressed that the report would serve as a road map for the commission is the implementing agency and UNICEF, as the supporting organisation.
According to him, the nationwide registration of birth is the statutory responsibility of the National Population Commission as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
"It is a responsibility of not only making the individual child count but also giving him/her an identity and some modest gains have been recorded since the commencement of the programme in 1988.
"Starting with a few centres in four experimental states of Oyo, Enugu, Plateau and Katsina, the commission now has a presence in each of the 774 LGAs of the Federation.
"The Commission also has at least two (2) registration centres in each of the 774 local government areas with as many as eight to ten centres in some of the urban areas," he said.
He stated that though there was a noticeable presence of the commission in the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) low Birth Registration remained a challenge in the country.
Hassan identified low capacity, inadequate logistics and budgetary constraints, a backlog of unprocessed returns, cultural barriers and low level of awareness as factors that militate against the modalities of birth registration.
"Available statistics have shown that prior to 2012, Birth Registration rates in Nigeria were 41 per cent; the implication of this is that three out of every five children were not registered.
"This state of affairs necessitated the intervention by UNICEF Nigeria Country Office with a five-year plan of action aimed at accelerating the birth registration rates in Nigeria, particularly for the under-five children.
"With this renewed commitment of UNICEF, a lot has been achieved as the programme provided support to National Population Commission in both equipment and material to enable it render more efficient services.
"The support included; employment of ad-hoc registrars and training of NPopC registrars, provision of computers, digital devices, motorbikes, stationeries and others."
Hassan further noted that the support proved effective in enabling the commission to continue to provide uninterrupted birth registration services.
He also said that the evaluation report was a comprehensive five-chapter compendium of practical and realisable field report which served the dual purpose of accountability and learning.
The NPopC boss said the report also helped to identify the strengths and weaknesses; as well as the sustainability of the programme, stressing that the intervention by UNICEF had made a lot of difference in birth registration in Nigeria as evident in the report.
He further said that strategies such as the use of technology, public education as well as the involvement of community influencers had been mapped out.
"However, this would require a lot of funding. I sincerely do hope we shall get the financial support," he added.
He commended UNICEF, European Union, the Federal Ministry of Health and the states ministries of health for their support.