In Niger, over four in ten children lack a birth certificate

Screenshot from Tv5 Monde's YouTube channel

In Niger, one of the larger countries in West Africa, it is difficult to get an exact figure for the population size, estimated at more than 20 million. This is mainly due to parents not registering children at birth. Four out of ten children in the country are not officially registered.

Several reasons are behind this, such as a lack of knowledge of the process for obtaining birth certificates, or the parents’ negligence in declaring births. As Ibrahim Malangoni, National Director of Niger’s Register Office, explained to Tv5monde Info:

La population ne se fait pas encore systématiquement enregistrer dès que des événements d'état civil surviennent dans leur famille. Elle attend toujours que le besoin s'en fasse sentir. Par exemple, pour l'école, pour la justice, que le besoin se fasse sentir pour d'autres circonstances de la vie, pour bénéficier d'une bourse, pour ouvrir un compte à la banque, et donc c'est à ce moment-là que les gens se rendent compte qu'ils doivent faire l'acte d'état civil, alors qu'ils auraient dû le faire plus tôt quand c'était gratuit.

Members of the public still do not systematically register such events as soon as they happen. People often wait until they feel it is necessary to do it. For example, for school, for court matters, or in other situations such as to benefit from a scholarship or to open a bank account, and it is only at that moment that people realize they need to officially register themselves, when they should have done it previously when it was free.

However, slow administration and a lack of infrastructure are also part of the problem. The state has less presence in more remote areas. Residents of these villages are also often unable to afford trips to towns to get their children’s documents.

The Moroccan website Le360 illustrated this problem with a real-life example:

Nadia Salou […] comme sa soeur Zeneba, 9 ans, et le petit Abdoulkarim, 4 ans […]n’existent que par leur prénom. Leur maman Aïchata Hassan, originaire du petit village rural d’Alzou dans une zone reculée de la région de Tillabéri (ouest), a accouché à son domicile et aucun agent de l’Etat n’a pu inscrire les naissances au registre. Elle disposait de soixante jours pour aller déclarer chaque enfant. Mais ses faibles revenus, l’éloignement de la ville et les coûts de transport l’en ont dissuadée. Et surtout au village, ce bout de papier, l’acte de naissance, « ne sert pas à grand-chose », dit-elle.

Nadia Salou […] like her sister Zeneba, 9 years old, and little Abdoulkarim, 4 years old […] exist only through their first names. Their mother Aichata Hassan, originally from the small rural village of Alzou in a remote area of the Western Tillabéri region, gave birth at her home and no civil servant was available to officially register the births. She had sixty days to go and register each child. But her low income, remoteness from the city and the transport costs dissuaded her from doing it. And especially in her village, this piece of paper, the birth certificate, “is not of much use,” she said.

In the same article Idrissa Illiassou, an educational advisor, lamented:

Beaucoup d’enfants de l’école sont dans cette situation. Des jeunes sans acte de naissance, ça va donner des adultes sans papier d’identité, ils seront exclus .

Many children at school are in this situation. Young people without a birth certificate, who will become adults without identity papers, they will be excluded.

Various projects launched to improve the situation

Since over five years ago, various initiatives have been launched in the country to deal with this serious problem. International organizations have held more and more group sessions (where birth certificates are issued en masse in the community) and awareness-raising events, digitalized the sector, and conducted campaigns alongside local NGOs.

This is, for example, what the NGO Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is doing, as highlighted by this tweet..

If you want to travel around, you must have this document. When I have my birth certificate, I’ll be able to visit my uncle in Niamey. -Fati

​In #Niger we assist displaced people in obtaining official documents such as birth certificates.

In this video from Tv5monde Info, Jan Egeland, secretary general of NRC, points out that:

“Avec un investissement mineur de l’État et des partenaires, vous pouvez procurer à ces garçons et ces filles du pays le plus jeune du monde de l’espoir”.

“With a minor investment from the state and its partners, you can give these boys and girls in the world's youngest country hope”.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), another NGO working with displaced and conflict-affected people in Africa, is doing similar work on the ground in collaboration with local bodies. In February 2022, the organization helped to obtain 500 birth certificates, as explained in this online post.

Project SHIFT @DanishMFA: partner AREN conducted census activities in order to obtain 500 birth certificates for displaced people and hosts in 2 towns in #Niger, who will collect 2 copies of their birth certificate soon!
#ICLA #documentationcivile

The International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) also played its part to help Niger deal with the challenge. In 2020, it launched a pilot program in the central-eastern Zinder region, at the request of Niger, which allowed the registration of more than 7,300 individuals, 90 percent of whom were children.

Saray Lawali, 40 years old, one of those who benefited from the OIF’s pilot program, recalled how lacking a birth certificate had been difficult:

« Sans pièces d’identité, vous ne pouvez pas circuler librement dans le pays et, pour les mêmes raisons, vous ne pouvez pas accéder à des emplois. »

“Without identity documents, you cannot move freely around the country and, for the same reason, you cannot access jobs.”

The United Nations agency responsible for promoting children’s rights in Niger, UNICEF Niger, has also headed initiatives which have led to a marked improvement in the situation. 

“With the digitalized system, not only will we be able to work faster, but it will also be better archived. I am now practicing by filling in existing records on the computer. Today, I’ve already done almost 20 registrations.”

In #Niger, 6 out of 10 children have a birth certificate. The system for registering citizens’ documents has been supported by @dueniger since 2012. This support has allowed improvements in managing citizens’ records, registering changes in people’s status, and issuing documents.

The main challenge: digitalizing the data

In this digital age, archiving data is not yet part of common practice in Niger. As well as the difficulties in registering children at birth, it is also difficult to access documents which are available and searchable online. Internet access is low in the country, with a penetration rate of 22.4 percent in early 2023.

In 2021, with support from UNICEF Niger and the European Union, Niger’s government launched a project to digitalize the system of citizens’ records, to be able to adapt policies according to the data. This has been promoted in order to help with demand and supply planning, for example for social services and monitoring children's welfare. However, it remains dependent on the development of internet access.

In this video from TV5Monde Info, Ibrahim Malangoni, National Director of the Niger’s Register Office observed:

Aujourd’hui, le taux d’enregistrement des enfants à la naissance dans les délais est de 60%. Quatre enfants sur dix restent donc invisibles aux yeux de l’État. Mais c’est déjà un taux remarquable parce qu’il n’y a pas si longtemps, en 2007, nous étions à peine à 30% .

Today, the rate of prompt registration of newborn children is 60 percent. Four out of ten children thus remain invisible to the state. But this is already a remarkable rate because not so long ago, in 2007, we were barely at 30 percent.

This progress is all the more important and necessary as Niger has one of the world’s highest population growth rates, at 3.2%, which is directly linked to a fertility rate of 6.2 children per woman, according to the National Survey on Fertility and Morality of Children under five years old (ENAFEME Niger 2021). The population is characterized by its youth – 15 years old on average – which results from the very high birth rate. As such, the population could reach 35 million by 2033.

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