From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
The United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has sought the collaboration of religious and community leaders in Benue State to improve birth registration.
UNICEF’s Chief of Enugu Field Office, Dr Ibrahim Conteh stated this Friday during a one-day stakeholders’ Engagement with Religious, Traditional and Community leaders from Otukpo, Oju, Obi, Ohimini, Ogbadibo, Okpokwu, Apa, Ado and Agatu Local Government Areas of the state held at Government Secondary School Otukpo.
Dr Conteh who was represented at the forum by UNICEF’S Child Protection Specialist, Enugu Field Office, Mr Victor Atuchuku expressed worry that the rate of birth registration in Benue was very low, saying only 17 percent out of the 39 percent registered birth of under-5 children had their births registered with the National Population Commission (NPC) in the state according to the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) of 2018.
He further stated that the 2021 available data shows that only 24% of U-5 children has been registered in Otukpo, Apa 32%, Agatu 24%, Ohimini 26%, Obi 18%, Okpokwu 33, Ogbadido 11% Ado19% and Oju 23%.
He noted that the task of birth registration is a huge one hence their partnership with Primary Health Care Board, National Population Commission and the Church to accomplish the task. He reiterated his call on church leaders to help in sensitizing and creating awareness for birth registration among members, adding that individuals shouId volunteer to carry out advocacy for the exercise.
Earlier in a welcome address, representative of the Hon. federal Commissioner of NPC and State Director of the Commission, Mr Stephen Tsemende who thanked the participants for turning up enmase for the programme intimated that part of the Commission’s mandate apart from conducting census is to register the birth of U-5 children. He highlighted the importance of registering new born babies and sued for its sustenance and improvement.
In a remark, Commissioner of Health and Human Services in the State, Dr Joseph Ngbea represented by Director of Public Health, Dr Jonathan Kur said he was at the event on behalf of the Ministry to demonstrate the collaboration they have with NPC to carry out birth and death registration in Benue State. Dr Ngbea acknowledged that there is a link between the Ministry of Health and NPC because they collect data from the Commission to provide Health services for Communities.
“We are here to demonstrate our partnership with NPC. This interaction will help enlighten you on what you are supposed to do about birth registration and I urge you to be agents of change when you go back to your various communities”, the Commissioner charged the participants.
Speaking on behalf of the Christian community in Otukpo Local Government, Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Otukpo, Very Rev Frederick A.G Onoja stated that the church was ready and willing to collaborate with any organization to carry out registration of new born babies.
Rev Onoja who is a member of the Methodist Church said his Church believes in service to humanity and so they would give maximum cooperation and support to the project.
The Otukpo CAN Chairman commended UNICEF, NPC, Ministry of Health and Primary Health Care Board for creating the forum to sensitize the public on the importance of birth registration, tracing the history of census to the book of Luke chapter 2 where a king ordered for population to be counted which compelled Joseph and Mary to go back to Bethlehem to be registered. He therefore assured that CAN as a body would include birth registration into their agenda for stronger collaboration.
In a remark, State Director of Primary Health Care Board, Dr Joseph Korave represented by Deputy Director of Otukpo Local Government Health Authority, Mrs Agnes Okoko said the Board was doing everything possible to support UNICEF and NPC to succeed in birth registration.
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In his presentation, NPC Head of Technical Department, Mr Christopher Nege said birth registration is backed by law and the registration has been made compulsory by decree 39 of 1979 and 69 of 1992 and the NPC has been mandated to do the birth registration.
Although he said that the NPC was not interested in sanctions, Mr Nege urged parents to register their children’s birth immediately after naming ceremony to avoid being charged for late registration. According to him, the registration within 8 days is free of charge but if done after the stipulated period, it will attract a fee. He added that death should be registered within 30 days.
He pointed out the benefits of birth registration to include, identity, parentage, nationality, eligibility for admission in schools, social benefits such as opening of bank account, checking underage marriage and voting or being voted for in an election.
One of the participants, Becky Odije Egbe of MCN Onyike Ibilla Circuit from Oju Local Government who volunteered to help speak with her church and the Muslim community in the Local Government said she carried out similar advocacy in the past through National Council of Women Societies and she would collaborate with NPC in the same way.
Abakpa John Peter from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Ijigban, Ado Local Government said his church holds laity Council meeting every month during which infants are baptized and their number is documented and signed by the priest. So they will use that avenue to speak with parents on the need to register those children with the NPC and the sensitization message will be reechoed every Sunday.
A Child Protection Officer, Grace Onoja from Ado Local Government said birth registration certificate has been helping her in her work by tracing the actual parents of a child in an event where two persons drag for the child. She said she will be the voice of Ado women in the campaign for birth registration.
A teacher with UBE JSS Obarike Ito and member of the Deeper Life Bible Church Obarike Ito in Obi Local Government, Elom Ikediya Maria and Mrs Comfort Eseimokumo of Methodist Asa II Otukpo LG said they will take the message beyond their churches just as they do evangelism.
Other participant, Catechist John Egbu of St Francis Cathedral Otukpo and Godwin Amanyi of Nativity of The Nation Church Otukpo, Okwududu Ugboju from St Joseph’s Catholic Church Otukpo suggested that NPC should distribute birth registration forms to churches so that they would help to register new born babies after which the commission will be invited to issue certificates.
Also contributing, an immediate past Deputy Speaker, Okpokwu Local Government Legislative Council and Proprietor of Enihotu International Academy Ichama, Hon. Jude Okpe opined that birth registration certificate shouId be made a compulsory requirement for enrollment into schools to enforce compliance.