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At a glance: Niger

In Niger, birth registration takes a big step forward

Learn how strengthening of the civil registry and efforts to reach remote and nomadic communities in Niger are ensuring that more children realize a basic right: having a birth certificate.  Download this video


By Nathalie Prévost & Charlotte Arnaud

Across even the remotest regions of Niger, a birth registration initiative has expanded the reach of government services and enabled a more secure future for the country’s youngest citizens.

© UNICEF Video
A mobile court hearing for nomadic communities in northern Niger. The hearings, in which officials visit remote areas, bring birth registration to communities where such services are often out of reach.

TAHOUA, Niger, 10 December 2013 – It’s a celebration day in the villages of Tabalak and Akoubounou, in north-western Niger. After months of waiting, around 600 children are getting their birth certificates delivered from the villages’ primary schools.

Ilhidji Athamane’s son is one of the children. Mr. Athamane lost his son’s birth certificate, so when he had the opportunity, he attended a mobile court hearing in Tabalak, organized by the Civil Registry Office.

“It is concrete proof of his existence in our community,” the father explains while waving the piece of paper in his hand.

His son goes to school, but without this precious document it would be impossible for him to take his exams, go to university, or get a national identity card, a driving license, a passport or a job. Having a birth certificate is a basic right – it is official and permanent proof of a person’s existence.

“You never know what the future holds – travels, a move, opportunities,” Mr. Athamane says. “It’s reinsuring to know that my children have their ID documents.”

A vast territory

The registration project began partly in response to a geographical problem. With a vast and landlocked territory poorly served by government administration, and with a high rate of illiteracy among the population, the Civil Registry Office faced significant challenges reaching out to households across Niger.

In 2007 there were 2,169 civil registry centres. That figure has now tripled. Nowadays, according to Deouda Aboubacar, National Director of Niger’s Civil Registry Office, each of the country’s 266 communes has its own civil registration officer, paid with local funds..

Thanks to efforts made by the Niger Government and its partners, including UNICEF and the European Union, the proportion of children registered has jumped from 32 per cent in 2006 to 64 per cent in 2012.

© UNICEF Video
With an improved system of birth registration in place – including registration in places of birth, such as health centres and maternities – efforts are focusing on reaching missed children.

“With the strengthening of the birth registration system and the increase of mobile court hearings, the Civil Registry Office really took off,” says Moctar Moussa Saley, Regional Director of the Civil Registry Office in Tahoua. “It now offers an improved service, closer to the populations, especially to the most remote ones. We have been receiving a lot of positive feedback.”

Health centres, maternity clinics and hospitals register new births as well. It has not always been so simple – as Mr. Saley explains, tradition forbids naming a child before baptism, which takes place seven days after birth. In addition, to account for distances between administrative centres and pastoral areas, which can be hundreds of kilometres, the law permits a 30-day declaration period.

For those millions of people who were not registered at birth, the mobile courts provide free hearings. Between 2009 and 2011, more than 600,000 judgments were delivered to children under 18.

An opportunity for all

More and more local representatives understand the importance of these civil status documents. They provide demographic information and statistical data that are crucial for planning, decision making and monitoring of policies designed to protect, educate and treat children.

Inizdane Mohamadou is a school director. Only three of his 104 pupils have a birth certificate. He came to the mobile court hearing of Akoubounou, 14 km from his school, to make sure that his pupils get their documents.

“All of the children are not here, because of the transportation cost, but the chief of village and I tried to bring as many as we could with our own means,” he explains. “We did it for our community, for our children, to help them with their education, so that they could find a job later on. It’s an opportunity for all of us.”

Khamed Attayoub is the mayor of Akoubounou, a commune of 47,000 inhabitants with 27 schools in an area of 5,300 square kilometres. This huge territory is a challenge for the civil registry agent, but the mayor remains optimistic. 

“We have registration centres in 20 villages of the commune and a civil registry agent that goes from one to another, thanks to a motorcycle financed by UNICEF,” he says. “With the ongoing decentralization process, communes have a strong interest in civil registration. We have a major role to play, notably with sensitization at village level. It’s also important to be involved with the follow-up, to make sure that we are not excluding anyone.”

These are the first mobile court hearings in Akoubounou, and they provided birth certificates to more than 300 pupils from nomadic primary schools, opening doors for their future.



UNICEF Photography: Birth registration & school


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