News / Africa

UNICEF: Majority of Nigerian Children 'Don’t Exist'

Children sit in a tent at a relief center for flood victims in Patani, Delta state, Oct. 13, 2012.
Children sit in a tent at a relief center for flood victims in Patani, Delta state, Oct. 13, 2012.
Heather Murdock
Nicholas Karikarisei, a fisherman, cares for his six children in a two-room home in Nigeria's Niger Delta.

Last year, he took his 4-year-old son, also Nicholas, to the state hospital to be treated for malaria, a disease that can be fatal.

The state hospital is free for children under five, he says, but his family, like many others, was turned away because he couldn’t prove Nicholas’s age. He had no birth certificate so he had to pay a private hospital $45 for treatment in a region where most people live on less than $1 a day.

"The awareness was not there. The importance was not there," he says. "It’s only when I came to get my son medical attention in the government hospital, only when I showed up there [I learned], 'no birth certificate, no free medical services.'”

According to UNICEF, one in three children worldwide does not "officially exist,” and nearly all of them live in Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

The U.N. children's agency also says 60 percent of Nigeria's children — about 17 million — lack birth certificates, a figure second only to India, which has 71 million unregistered children.  

UNICEF child protection officer Sharon Oladiji says the problem is particularly acute in rural northern areas, where Nigeria's undocumented children are often denied healthcare, education and are especially vulnerable to rights abuses.

“It’s a patriarchal society and most women do not take part in decision making at all, and most women in the very rural north aren't educated, so they don’t know the importance of registering their children,” she says.

Aside from facing a host of difficulties such as denial of government services, children least likely to be registered are the ones most likely to face adverse life circumstances.

Health workers must know a child’s age in order to provide treatment safely, for example, and trafficked children, many of whom are undocumented, cannot prove their age when interacting with legal authorities.

“When a child is in contact or in conflict with the law, you don’t treat that child like an adult that has committed a criminal offense," says Oladiji. "There’s a separate legal framework to deal with children who are in conflict with the law.”

Nigeria's lack of birth records also undermines government efforts to track vital demographic information, making it especially difficult to prevent children from dying if officials cannot accurately determine how many have died in given region, or what the cause of death might be.

UNICEF is currently trying to convince traditional leaders and families of the importance of registering children. In northern Nigeria, where most of the families are Muslim, Oladiji and her colleagues sometimes present verses from the Quran that suggest registration is encouraged by Islam.

their argument that, for example, birth registration facilitates a child’s future ability to make the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

“We want to look at what they do, what they like," she says, explaining that they also associate registration with Muslim pilgrimage.

"For example, going to Mecca, we link with that: 'This child, if you don’t register his birth, he cannot get a passport. He cannot go on a pilgrimage.’”

But for many parents, the importance of registration simply hadn't been made clear. Karikarisei, the father of six, said he has no objection to registering his son, but that the nearest registration center was 15 hours from his village.

UNICEF says it hopes to dramatically increase the number of registration centers in Nigeria, and that 65 to 70 percent of Nigerian childrens will receive birth certificates within the next few years.

Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs