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COVID-19 brings unexpected rewards for children in Nigeria’s north-west

UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Mohammed Saiadat Sani, 8, receives her birth certificate after being registered in Gunmi, Zamfara State. She is one of 69 Almajirai returned to Zamfara due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With support from UNICEF and the Zamfara State Government, more than sixty former Almajiri children have had their births registered for the first time ever

By Samuel Kaalu, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria

July 20, 2020 -For 69 former Almajirai children in Zamfara State in north-west Nigeria who had never heard

about birth registration before, let alone seen a birth certificate, COVID-19 has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The children make up a population of millions of children in Nigeria sent by their parents to informal Islamic schools, often in distant places, to study and memorize the Qur’an.

Many children in the Almajiri system never return to their homes and never receive any formal education, spending days roaming the streets begging for food.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and perceived health risks, many of these children have been repatriated to their home states.

Upon their arrival in Zamfara, the 69 children - 28 girls and 41 boys aged between 5 and 11 - were received by the Zamfara State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Zainab Lawal Gunmi.

With technical support from UNICEF, their personal identification details were taken, after which they were brought to the Zamfara State COVID-19 isolation centre, in case of infection.

Fortunately, all the returning children tested negative for COVID-19. While awaiting the outcomes of their tests, their births were registered for the first time ever – and they are now all proud owners of new birth certificates.

Delighted to be registered and brandishing her birth certificate, Saiadat Sani, 8, said, “I’ve been told this paper in my hand is a very important document and I should take good care of it; and I’m going to do just that.”

Birth registration – the official recording of a child's birth by the government – establishes the existence of a child under law and provides the foundation for safeguarding a child’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Yet, the births of 166 million children under the age of 5 worldwide have never been officially recorded.

In Nigeria, only 30 percent of children under-5 have had their births registered.

Pius Uwamanua, UNICEF’s Child Protection Specialist at the Sokoto Field Office in north-west Nigeria, explained how the 69 children all got registered and received birth certificates that now give them a legal identity.

“As soon as the important issue of determining their COVID-19 status was resolved, we turned to the next important thing - which was to find out whether their births were registered by the National Population Commission,” said Uwamanua.

“With the support of traditional leaders in the area, we explained to the parents who came to take their children home how important it is to register their children’s births.”

Uwamanua said that birth registration is a huge priority for UNICEF in Nigeria, which has been supporting the National Population Commission to work together with local influencers, especially traditional leaders, to ensure the births of children are registered more widely.

In Zamfara State, one traditional leader who is an advocate of birth registration is His Royal Majesty Lawal Mohammed Gunmi, the Emir of Gunmi.

I believe birth registration is very important, and I’m thrilled to serve as its champion. I’ll use my position and influence as a traditional leader to promote birth registration within and outside Zamfara State"

His Royal Majesty Lawal Mohammed Gunmi, the Emir of Gunmi

Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 7 of which specifies that every child has the right to be registered at birth, without any discrimination.

And as the case of the lucky Zamfara 69 has shown, given the urgency of giving every Nigerian child a legal identity, the COVID-19 pandemic response is an opportunity not to be missed.

Source: UNICEF Nigeria

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