by Anna C.

Niger, the poorest country in the world, is home to 19 million people. It borders Nigeria and is named for the Niger River. In 2017 alone, the population grew just over 3 percent, with an average of 44 births for every 1,000 people.  Nearly 20 percent of the population live in cities, with the remaining population living in rural areas.

With those statistics in mind, it’s important to remember that these are just the documented births.  Many Nigerien births are undocumented, meaning that children born in Niger grow up without a birth certificate – which is legal proof of their identity, including their given name, country of residence, and their birthdate and parent. This is a prevalent problem in developing nations, and Niger is no exception. According to UNICE [2013], one in three children under five does not legally “exist” since there is no birth record for those children.

Reasons why birth certificates are not provided vary based on circumstance, but there are a few possibilities:

  • – Although countries generally have a legal right to register births of children within a mandated time period, this rule is not always enforced.
  •  – Lack of resources – due to the costs incurred to provide birth registrations – may allow for many children to be born in the hospital without a birth certificate to identify them
  •  – Location of births – many births occur away from registration locations or hospitals, often in rural areas, so no documentation is available.

A child without a birth certificate faces a myriad of challenges.  Not only does the child have no record for proof of identity, age, and family relationship, the lack of a birth certificate prevents children from claiming a nationality, traveling, opening a bank account, and voting. In addition, being undocumented increases the risk of abuse and exploitation, as there is no paper trail to track the child’s identity. This lack of documentation also means there is a fundamental misrepresentation of a nation’s birth and death rates. In order to provide humanitarian aid and support services to developing nations, it is essential to have an accurate picture of these statistics, and undocumented births grossly skew the data.

Governments and humans rights groups are attempting to address the problem through awareness campaigns and the issuing of fines if parents are caught not registering their child for a birth certificate. Unfortunately, the efforts have failed to make an impact in the rural areas.

My hope is that with the technological advancements, social media, and public awareness campaigns, the message will continue to spread and more parents will recognize the importance of ensuring that their children have the documentation necessary for successful adulthood.