In the past decade, birth registration (BR) has come under the limelight as one of UNICEF’s four pillars of children’s rights programming and a target of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.[i] BR is officially defined by UNICEF (2005) as the “the continuous, permanent and official recording of a child’s existence through an administrative process of the state and coordinated by a particular branch of government”. BR is a fundamental human right and an essential means of protecting a child’s right to an identity (UNICEF, 2005), besides being instrumental to ensure access to basic services and social protection benefits.
In Nigeria, the registration of births is part of an effective Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system, which acknowledges the existence of a person (LEGAL) and can help the nation keep track of its population and health indicators (Isara & Atimati, 2015). It also ensures that children have known family ties and can track their life events from birth to death (Wakap Tchagang, 2013).
The objective of this blog is to address the importance of BR, as well as its coverage, key determinants and its influence in the state of social protection.
Importance of birth registration
Birth registration has been identified as important for child protection. For instance, having an accurate estimation of age allows for the administration of and compliance with vaccination as prescribed by the WHO (Brito, Corbacho, & Osorio, 2017). Additionally, birth registration can act as a public policy tool to ensure children are in the age-appropriate school grades. It can also help reduce social issues such as child marriage and neglect, illegal identity changes, early and/or forced recruitment into the armed forces/organized crime, child labor/hazardous work for unscrupulous employers, sexual exploitation and trafficking (UNICEF, 2013). Furthermore, it can assist juvenile criminals receive age-appropriate punishments from the criminal justice system, and help children be identified and reunited with relatives following conflict or natural disasters (Plan Limited, 2009). Finally, for births outside of marriage or legal partnerships, it can act as a social policy tool to facilitate parent-child relationships (McCandless, 2017).
Birth Registration in Nigeria
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), on its Article 7, states that “every child has the right to be registered at birth, without any discrimination” (UNICEF, 2013). According to the Demographic & Health Survey (DHS) final report (National Population Commission - NPC/Nigeria and ICF, 2019), only 43% of children under age 5 are registered.
Figure 2 shows that there are wide variations in the levels of birth certification across states, with higher concentrations in the south. Zamfara (6.5%) and Sokoto (9.1%) states had less than 10% of the children registered. Conversely, four states had at least 70% registration rates: Lagos (70.5%), Enugu (73.9%), Abia (75.8%), and Imo (79.3%) states.
Figure 1: Birth registration in Nigeria.
Source: Nigerian DHS Report (2018)
Determinants of Birth Registration
Several socioeconomic and demographic factors have been linked to the success in BR (Anaduaka, 2020). The infographics below show the distribution of registration rates by these factors: the ratio of BR for children born with skilled versus non-skilled attendants is 2.2 to 1. Furthermore, the BR ratio between mothers with secondary and those with less than primary education was 2.7 to 1.
Prevalence of birth registration increases with household wealth: rich children are more likely to be registered (68%) than those in the lowest wealth quintile (21%). Conversely, BR reduces as distance to the civil registration centers increases: 58% of children who reside within 5kms of a center were registered compared to 23% who reside 10 or more kilometers away.
Finally, birth registration among children resident in rural and urban areas are 32% and 60%, respectively. These figures suggest significant disparities both for demand- and supply-side factors. In that sense, programs aiming to improve birth registration rates must be multi-dimensional to cater for the differences that exist within the nation.
Figure 2: Immediate Impact Indicators.
Source: Author's computation from the Nigerian Demographic & Health Survey (2018)
State of Social Protection for birth registration
SDG Target 16.9 aims to “provide legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030. To achieve this lofty target, international agencies such as the UNICEF are in collaboration with the National Population Commission (NPopC), the primary service provider for birth registration.
The Birth Registration Program (BRP)
The extinct BRP was the first program in Nigeria directly targeted at improving BR rates, especially for children under the age of five. Its goal was to improve immunization, school enrolment and child protection through higher rates of birth registration.
Figure 3: Impact Statement for the Birth Registration Program. Source: UNICEF'
The nation-wide program, ran from 2012-2016, was led and implemented by the NPopC with support from the UNICEF Nigeria Country Office (UNICEF NCO). The key stakeholders of the program also included the European Commission, Federal Ministries of Education (FMoE) and Health (FMoH).
According to UNICEF NCO (2019), the BRP had four components grouped into ‘demand-side’ (communication) and ‘supply-side’ (advocacy, partnerships and technology) components.
To achieve its objectives, key interventions were utilized:
- A memorandum of Understanding committing 36 Ministries of Health and 11 Ministries of Education at the state-level to the program’s objectives.
- A decentralized real-time monitoring system using the mobile-phone platform - RapidSMS in all 774 local government areas (LGAs).
- Media interventions (BR messages and call-in radio program, TV adverts, documentary, and print media) in four states (Adamawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, and Kebbi states).
In 2018, a mixed-method impact evaluation was carried out for the BRP (UNICEF NCO, 2019). The findings suggest that birth registration rates are not increasing at the expected rates. As shown in the picture below, while the target was to increase BR coverage in 20%, the program only managed to increase the rates by an average of 5.4%. The wealth disparities had an equally disappointing result, widened by more than 23 percentage points (41.9 to 64.9%) when they were expected to be reduced.
Figure 4: Immediate Impact Indicators.
Source: UNICEF NCO (2019).
Conclusions and Policy Recommendations
Despite BRP’s progress in improving birth registration rates in Nigeria, the country still falls short of the target of universal birth registration (100%). To be on track with achieving this goal, it is expected that birth registration rates grow on average at least 5.7% very year until 2030. The current mean annual growth rates of 1.14% will certainly not meet SDG’s target 16.9.
However, efforts to improve the rates remain in place: BR was included in the ‘National Priority Agenda’ (2013-2020) and ‘Nigeria Vision 20:2020’. Additionally, the RapidSMS, Score Card, and the online Dashboard measures are expected to keep BR on track.
Some policy mechanisms that can be used to sustain positive changes include:
- Making registration centers more accessible by utilizing primary health centers (PHCs) or health posts, especially in rural communities. This will help reduce the monetary costs of BR for parents/caregivers.
- BR should be free, especially for children who are still under-five years of age. This would encourage parents to register their children.
- BR services should be part of community vaccination or maternal and newborn health care (MNCH) programs. Local or ad hoc officers can be stationed at the locations to encourage registration.
- Encouraging compliance by setting birth certificates as a compulsory identification document for school, health center and bank registration.
- Initiate mop-up BR campaigns on the first day of school, in order to ensure all children in schools are duly registered.
- Working with media and entertainment channels to convey important information on the process and benefits of birth registration using radio jingles, print (posters and flyers), television and social media advertising. This will go a long way to educate, sensitize and hopefully change the preferences of and practices by parents concerning birth registration.
- Leverage the influence and outreach through frequent engagement with traditional and religious leaders, and associated forums e.g. the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the ‘The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs’ (NSCIA), and the Council of Traditional leaders.
Anaduaka, U. S. (2019). Determinants of Birth Registration in Nigeria. Economics. Tuen Mun: Lingnan University. Access here.
Brito, S., Corbacho, A., & Osorio, R. (2017). Does birth under-registration reduce childhood immunization? Evidence from the Dominican Republic. Health Economics Review, 7(14). Access here.
McCandless, J. (2017). Reforming birth registration law in England and Wales. Reproductive Biomedicine Society Online, 4, 52-58. Access here.
National Population Commission - NPC/Nigeria and ICF. (2019). Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018. National Population Commission & The DHS Program ICF. Access here.
Plan Limited. (2009). Count Every Child: the right to birth registration. Plan Limited. New York: USA: Plan International USA. Access here.
UNICEF. (2013). A Passport to Protection: A Guide to Birth Registration Programming. New York: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Access here.
UNICEF NCO. (2019). Impact Evaluation: Birth Registration in Nigeria (2012-2016). Abuja: UNICEF Nigeria Country Office. Access here.
Wakap Tchagang, Ariane. (2013). Determinants and Impact of Non-Registration of Births on the Children in Cameroun 59th ISI World Statistics Congress (25-30 August 2013), Hong Kong. Access here.
[i] For more information, see https://www.unicef.org.hk/edu/crc-resources/learn_crc/crc_eng.pdf and https://indicators.report/targets/16-9/.