Birth registration campaign gives children a second chance
By Samuel Kaalu
KANO, 9 September 2008 – In the ancient town of Dawakin Kudu, in Kano State, northwest Nigeria, Aisha Sanusi, 13, proudly displays the certificate she recently acquired through a state-wide, door-to-door exercise in birth registration. Her brother, Nura Sanusi, 15, is also proud of his newly issued birth-registration certificate.
The Sanusi children represent the success of this ‘mop-up’ exercise, which targeted roughly 2.3 million unregistered children in Nigeria – most of whom were not registered at birth.
“This birth certificate gives me an identity and a gateway to many possibilities,” says Aisha. “With it, I can secure a Nigerian passport easily, facilitate my registration in a higher institution or prove my real age to prospective employers, if need be.”
The registration campaign was initiated by the Kano State Government. Technical support came from UNICEF and other partners such as the National Population Commission, the only agency legally authorised to register the birth of children in Nigeria.
Clearing the backlog
Although Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child – whose Article 7 prescribes the mandatory registration to give children an identity at birth – only 30 per cent of children here are registered at birth.
Nigeria domesticated the international Convention by enacting the Child Rights Act (CRA) at the national level in 2003. Sixteen of the country’s 36 states currently have the CRA in place, but this has not translated into birth registration on a massive scale.
Mindful of the large number of unregistered children in Nigeria, UNICEF encouraged the convening of a strategic meeting with representatives of the National Population Commission, the States Universal Basic Education Boards and the Ministries for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.
“That meeting resolved that all the states that had a backlog of unregistered births should define specific periods within which to clear the backlog,” says UNICEF Nigeria Child Protection Specialist Maryam Enyiazu, who is managing the project.
Sustained registration efforts
The Kano State Government established a special task force to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate the registration exercise.
The task force set up a public enlightenment campaign at the state and local levels involving the media, traditional and religious leaders, and government mobilisation officers. (Among the latter were state and local officials from the National Orientation Agency.) They were charged with generating awareness, acceptance and demand for birth registration in 44 Local Government Areas.
In collaboration with the authorities in Kano, UNICEF ensured that a total of 4,140 special birth-registration staff were trained to go door to door.
The District Head of Dawakin Kudu, Alhaji Yusuf Bayero – one of the traditional rulers who gave full support to the exercise – hopes birth-registration efforts will continue. “Whilst thanking the government for the full mobilisation of traditional leaders for the mop-up birth-registration exercise, I’d like to call on all the relevant government agencies to ensure that birth registration is sustained,” he says.