Experts insist that birth registration is essential as it marks the official and positive recognition of a new member of society, who is entitled to all the rights and responsibilities of a valued citizen.
A professor of Counselling Psychology, Prof. Bolaji Adana, explained that extortion by NPC officials is not the only cause of low birth registration in the country.
He said the main constraints and challenges facing the process were also related mainly to lack of financial resources and trained personnel.
The professor said birth registration requires an intensive, continuous follow up and long term commitment of the government.
According to him, it would take some time to develop a common understanding of the key functions of such a system and its importance.
Adana noted that “areas that need immediate attention include promotion of awareness, raising capacity, building of birth registration systems and increasing of coverage to reach the remote areas and even the children on the street.”
On low birth registration, a demographer, Mr Adebayo Oluwadare, said the Nigerian government should not overlook this area. He cautioned that the recent UNICEF figure of 29 million should not be celebrated going by Nigeria’s population of over 180million people.
Adebayo said that birth registration information could be used to determine fertility rates. Accordingly, figures collected through birth registration over a period of time, can be used to estimate the growth, structure and geographic distribution of the population.
The demographer said that every child deserves a right to identity. “From the moment a child is born, he or she has rights, including the right to an identity. A birth certificate is one of the most important documents a child will ever own. It is evidence that the child exists and that the Government has certain obligations with regards to the child”.
Dr Samuel Eleojo, a public health practitioner observed that one of the barriers to birth registration was the lack of efficient communication between rural people and national birth registration officials.
Eleojo, who questioned how the records collected were kept, said they were typically paper based and were therefore easily lost, damaged or destroyed.
He, however, advised the government to go digital in registering births to avoid duplication of registration and also checkmate foreigners.
Mr Chijoke Ijeh, an Information and Communication Technology expert, said that the NPC should computerize its system of registering birth, adding that ICT is the new generation of windows and escape routes out of many hitherto insurmountable problems.
“NCP should explore all the possible role of new ICTs such as computers, internet and mobile phones as well as new social media such as Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, etc in achieving accurate and reliable information in the two most important vital events birth and death,” he advised.
Ijeh advised again that NPC should develop and implement an innovative mobile application to register children under 5, which would simplify the process of registration, as the data would go into a mobile phone and sent via SMS to the commission directly.
“This will ensure that newborns can go home from the hospital with a birth certificate.The application will be designed to work on all mobile phones and operating systems, and will only require mobile coverage to send and receive data.
“The NCP should seek partnership with UNICEF in this initiative. It will also be a service that should be provided for free. This will curb extortion. I was privileged to be in Tanzania in 2013, where something like this was carried out and its working for that small nation till date,” he said.
* This investigation was done with the support of Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.