In northern Nigeria, traditional leaders push for birth registration

With support from the European Union, UNICEF has been working with state governments and traditional leaders to encourage and support birth registration

Samuel Kaalu, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria
A mother and son with a birth certificate
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Kaalu
02 December 2020

With a smile on his face suggesting a sense of triumph, four-year-old Suraini Sanusi shows off the birth certificate he just received in the reception room of Umar Magaji Barade, village head of Gwadangwaji, Birnin Kebbi LGA of Kebbi State, northern Nigeria. Nearby, his excited mother looks on with pride.

At the same location, 8-month-old Maryam Aliyu also gets her birth registered, and her mother receives the certificate from the registrar, smiling too. She is delighted and relieved to have this important document in her hands.

Both parents learned about importance of birth registration and where to register their children through Barade, the village head.

“We have been told that very soon, any official transaction like enrolling in school, obtaining a visa or contesting for elective posts, will require a birth certificate recognized by government,” said Barade.

Although birth registration – the official recording of a child's birth by the government – establishes the existence of a child under law and provides the foundation for safeguarding many of a child's civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, only 43 percent of Nigerian children under-5 have had their births registered, according to the National Demographic Health Survey 2018 (NDHS 2018). This can hamper their chances for future education, access to health, employment and many other services.

With support from the European Union (EU), UNICEF has been working with state governments and traditional leaders to encourage and support birth registration.

“We know that the only birth certificate recognized by the Nigerian government is the one issued by the National Population Commission, so we have been telling our people to come out and register the births of their children,” said Barade.

Often, traditional leaders talk to caregivers and parents about birth registration during social gatherings, such as naming ceremonies or weddings, he said. “When they come to the mosque, we talk to them about it, and we also send town announcers to harder to reach locations to let people know.”

Since the effort was launched, Kebbi State has seen increased support for birth registration activities by village scribes, health workers and outreach mobile teams, who register children in rural and hard-to-reach areas. Birth registration services have been reflected in immunization cards and integrated into routine immunization services, and routine birth registration in the state has been scaled up from the targeted 225 health facilities to 354 health facilities.

“Health facilities in 15 Local Government Areas in Kebbi State where birth registration services are conducted can now be found on the GIS map. This resulted in the registration of about half a million children under one year old and nearly one million children under five by August 2020,” said Barade.

With all the efforts to promote birth registration, it may soon be routine for children in Kebbi State to have their births registered. This will accord them one of their fundamental rights – the right to a legal identity – prescribed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

“We won’t rest,” says Barade. “We will continue to mobilize communities to ensure every child is registered and no one is left behind.”