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

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes 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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More