It was a dream come true for Habibulahi Olalekan, an SSS student, when on his way back home after the close of school he met an aggressive team of itinerant marketers who cajoled him with some mouth-watering benefits to open a zero-saving account with one of the new generation banks in Lagos.
He had long before then agitated for his parents’ approval for a personal bank account, but they refused to give in to his pressure on account of his age.
He, therefore, saw the offer as an opportunity to circumvent their disapproval. But little did he realise the implication of what he was into.
While giving the details of his bio data, he put his age at 18, even though it was apparent to the marketers that he made a false declaration.
Yet he struck the deal, collected his ATM card and other means of identification and went home with full excitement to narrate his story to his mother who reluctantly gave her node of approval.
Thereafter, he kept every single kobo that came his way into the account until he ran into a hitch one day when he wanted to make his first withdrawal. For every ATM he tried, the response he got was: ‘access not allowed.’
Fuming and raging with anger, he went straight to the bank to lodge complaint about his ordeal, but the officer in charge insisted that he must come with his birth certificate to resolve the issue. His father’s subsequent intervention later revealed that he lied about his age.
A mild drama ensued when upon the presentation of his birth certificate, the lady in charge of customer care unit said: “Sir, your son was 17 at the time of opening of this account, but he claimed 18.”
Utterly embarrassed by the shocking revelation, the man looked at his child and asked: Is it true that you lied about your age? The lad had no answer as, he was dumb founded. “Then, case closed,” the father declared as he dashed out of the banking hall.
Speaking with this reporter after the scene, the bank officer explained that the reason for insisting on birth certificate was to ensure a watertight fraud control at the entry point.
This narrative illustrates the worrisome trend of age falsification which is accentuated by pervasive ignorance about the importance of birth registration in Nigeria. It was partly for this reason that The Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF recently organised a two-day media dialogue in Kano to step up campaign for promoting birth registration in Nigeria beginning with 18 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The event which was held at Tahir Guest Palace, Kano, witnessed a brainstorm storming session by the critical stakeholders in an effort to boost advocacy for improved attitude towards birth registration.
Mrs. Sharon Oladiji, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF, in her paper presentation, noted that 70 percent of children in Nigeria do not have their births registered. Such category of children, she said, do not exist in legal terms, thus making it easy for violations of their rights to go unnoticed.
While calling on government at all levels to support campaign for birth registration, she explained that birth registration data, when correctly collected, could play an important role in national planning.
“Registering the child will enable government to plan, and implement basic social services (health, education, employment, etc), monitor, evaluate and report on the impact of its social and economic policies. It will also ensure that resources are allocated to where they are really needed within different geographical areas or different groups in society,” she posited.
According to her, birth registration provides legal and documentary evidence to certify a person’s existence, age, parentage, birth place and nationality; enables a person’s eligibility for health care, admission into school, voting, obtaining a passport, employment, marriage; checks incidences of child abuse, child trafficking, early marriages, child labour, unlawful detention; Provides data on causes of death, relative impact of specific diseases on mortality which can lead to policy interventions; provides data for planning in health, education, social security, insurance; provides indicators for monitoring population dynamics and development goals and targets like the MDGs.
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Her words: “How does government know the number of schools to build, projects to undertake and health workers to employ when you don’t actually know the number of children given birth to?
It is worrisome that in 2018 the performance of birth registration is only 32 per cent. This shows that all the states have low registration and this can be traceable to some limitations which must be urgently addressed.”
Highlighting some of the major issues of concern in the projected demographic trends and its implications for global, regional and national actions to help realise the rights of all of the continent’s children in the 21st century, she said one fifth of the continent’s births, accounting for 5 per cent of all global births takes place in Nigeria alone and that by 2030, 136 million births, amounting to 9 per cent of all African babies and 6 per cent of the global total will take place in the country. “By 2050, Nigeria alone will account for almost one tenth of all births in the world.
In absolute terms, Nigeria is projected to add from 2031 to 2050 an additional 224 million babies (21 percent of the births in Africa and 8 per cent of all births in the world),” she declared.
Accordingly, she called for concerted effort of all stakeholders to maximise the benefit of the trend for future development and growth.
Oladiji further identified poor attitude of government institutions to birth registration as a limiting factor to fraud prevention and control systems. “Most government institutions would require presentation of sworn age affidavit (which
is subject to manipulation) as evidence of date of birth instead of birth certificates from the National Population Commission,” she said.
The seeming nonchalant attitude of government to birth registration, according to her, makes it easy for people to falsify their age and perpetuate corruption with impunity in virtually all facets of national life-sport, civil service, private as well as public institutions.
On her own part, Hapsatu Husaini Isiyaku, Assistant Director, National Population Commission, noted that about 62 percent of birth occurred at home, while only 35 per cent of birth in Nigeria is delivered in health facility. She attributed the worrisome development to ignorance of parents and care givers as well as lack of knowledge of birth registration in the rural communities.
“In Nigeria, according to the 2013 Demographic Health Survey, birth registration of under-5 children in Nigeria is approximately 30%, while the remaining 70% remain unregistered and in legal term do not exist. Major reason for not registering these children is either due to ignorance of parents and care givers or lack of knowledge of birth registration in the rural communities. About 62 percent of birth occurred at home, only 35% of birth in Nigeria is delivered in health facilities,” she submitted.
Earlier, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said there was need for widespread media campaign to enlighten and create awareness in homes, communities and at all levels of government on birth registration.
Mohammed, who was represented by Mr. Olumide Osanyipeju, Head of Advocacy, Child Right Information Bureau in the ministry, said the low awareness of birth registration had resulted to lack of
planning. He said: “The low level, or apparently lack of awareness on the importance of birth registration has resulted in lack of planning for children and improper capturing of this important segment of our society in developmental and social processes that affect them.
“Workable solutions to this general weak knowledge can begin right from the homes and communities and through a wide spread media campaign aimed at creating awareness at all levels of governance and civil society, he added.
The final take away for the participants present at the event was the need for parents to ensure registration of their children at the centre of delivery free of charge. Similarly, those below 18 who are yet to be registered are also eligible to free birth certificate rather than affidavit which is subject to manipulation. It was also part of consensus of the stakeholders for the government to prohibit issuance of affidavit for those above the age bracket.
Such request, they all agreed, would be better handled by the National Population Commission, if it is empowered by the necessary legal framework.