How would it make you feel if you or your child were denied a legal identity? While any parent understands firsthand the caring and thoughtful process of naming a beloved child, the unfortunate truth is that this process of legal identification does not always take place.
I deal a lot with issues of identity as part of my work. As I reflected on the latest trends and research to keep abreast of the situation in my market space, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to share some of my thoughts here.
Things that I have been reminded of. New facts that I have learnt. All these were a refreshing wake up call for me and I believe that more people should be made aware of the situation, whether you’re in this business or not.
A legal identity is something that all of us take for granted. Why shouldn’t we? It’s a fundamental human right.
Yet millions of people in the low and lower middle income countries are being denied basic services and protection of their rights due to deficient civil registration and national identification systems. In particular, the problem disproportionately affects children and women from poor rural areas in Africa and Asia.
I like to dabble in a little photography during my travels and human portraits are one of my favourite photography subjects. Now that I think about it, if I just pick up any one of my random portraits of children playing in the street, that boy in the photo could be one of over 650 million unregistered children below the age of 14. To put it into perspective, that’s more than 70 times the total population of my home country Sweden.
And according to a report by the World Bank and Accenture, over 1.8 billion people around the world lack a legal identity. Again to put it into perspective, that’s more than 2 times the total population of the United States and the European Union combined.
Sadly, this situation with not being recognized persists even at the end of one’s life. An individual’s right to be counted at both extremes of life is fundamental to social inclusion. Yet two-thirds (38 million) of 56 million annual deaths are still not registered
“Official identification (ID) is more than a convenience; it is a fundamental human right”
Randeep Sudan, The World Bank (Identification for Development (ID4D) Integration Approach)
What are the consequences of not having an identity? Proof of identity is critical to gain access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, social benefits and financial services. A legal identity is also necessary in order to obtain passports, vote, open bank accounts and get a driving license. For a child without an identity, its consequences are traumatic. Right from birth, it means a life deprived of basic human rights; the opportunity to learning and a future; a lifetime of stigma and discrimination.
Based on a recent UNHCR report on childhood statelessness, there is a stateless child being born somewhere in the world at least every 10 minutes. This is quite an alarming statistic because their stories are heartbreaking. Rather than recounting their plight, I think it is worth the while to actually hear about what they go through from their perspective, in their own words. I’ve provided a link below to facilitate your search and I encourage you to listen to their stories firsthand.
However, despite the clear benefits of civil registration and national identification systems, we still find that over 100 developing countries around the globe don’t have well-functioning systems.
The right to be recognized as a person before the law is an inalienable human right according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and a number of other important international agreements, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, obligate governments to register all births. So, why are we still in the situation that we are in today?
To deal with this problem, several organizations have initiated large-scale projects. The World Bank, for instance, has developed and launched the Identification for Development (ID4D) Plan. With the moving slogan, “making everyone count,” the specific goals of this agenda are universal identity provision and access to digital identification services like banking and business transactions.
All in all, the bottom line is that societies will not be true reflections of humanity, nor pillars of inclusivity and equity, until every human being is, as Article 6 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”.
I think everyone of us can agree that a human being’s intrinsic right to be recognized as an individual person, both in life and death, is fundamental to the structure of society.
“To guarantee the human rights of children is to invest in the future” (Amnesty International). Many nations, it would seem, fail to realize this.
Do you think it’s important to safeguard the right of all children to have a legal identity? Act now and share this post to get involved. Awareness is the first step. We can make a difference.
In a series of forthcoming short articles, we will discuss why so many ‘civil registration and national identification’ projects in developing countries fail to deliver. The articles will also present insights into academic writing in the area of eGovernment for developing countries, and the critical success factors to deliver a successful eGovernment program.