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

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs