Regional Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Ms Marie-Pierre Poirier, says about 40 million children under five are unregistered in the West African region
Poirier made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Banjul at the end of the Ministerial-Level meeting on the adoption of a Regional Action Plan to end Statelessness in West Africa.
She stressed that the rate of no birth registration system in some countries in the region posed potential risks of lingering statelessness situation in the region.
According to Poirier, statelessness can be prevented, reduced and eradicated by addressing one of its root causes which is to ensure the birth registration of every child born in countries of the region.
Proirier said that once a child was registered at birth, it would be given the “breeder document’’, or a birth registration certificate as the most important legal documents.
She said that the birth certificate was the basis for establishing the nationality of the child yet millions of children do not have, which had made them invisible.
She said that for UNICEF, an essential first step to achieve in this fight to eradicate statelessness was that each child must have a birth certificate
“Ensuring that no one born in our region is invisible is the key target of the Sustainable Development Goal number 16 that aims at promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.
“It also aims at providing access to justice for all; build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
“This target should also be included in all national development plans as it lies at the core of individual development.
“These children are invisible in the eyes of the law, deprived of their fundamental rights, vulnerable to multiple child rights violations including child marriage, child labour, recruitment to armed forces among others.
“UNICEF is fully committed to supporting countries in their efforts to reach the SDGs that aims at providing legal identity for all including birth registration,’’ Proirier said.
Proirier said that the ministerial meeting had the power to transform into reality national development plans and platforms to ensure that every child enjoyed equal opportunities in spite of their place or origin of birth.
Mr Gregory Toulmin, the Gambian’s Programme Coordinator of the World Bank, said that two critical tools for preventing and reducing statelessness were ensuring birth and civil registration in the West African region.
He said that an estimated 1.1 billion people were stateless globally and over 200 million people in West Africa were affected, adding that it called for urgent action.
“It is on the note that the World Bank has launched an initiative to support the identity registration system of some countries in the sub-region,’’ he said.
Mr Mabingue Ngom, the Regional Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said while civil registration of citizens was key to addressing statelessness, there was need to address other root causes of statelessness.
He said that an effective registration system would help keep track of migrating ECOWAS nationals in whichever country they chose to go.
NAN reports that the ministerial-level meeting was organised by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS).
The meeting provided the platform for experts from ECOWAS member countries to recommend and adopt a regional plan for the implementation of the Abidjan declaration which contains actions to be implemented to end statelessness in West Africa.