The “scandal of invisibility” as a new priority for international development

What is identification and why is it so important?

The “scandal of invisibility” [1] is the situation of millions of people who are not taken into account in any official statistics, and thus who cannot fulfil the rights enabled by being registered. In most countries, civil registration is a condition to have access to citizenship, property, and also health care, the education system, social protection, among other rights.

Moreover, some studies show that in history, identification has been essential to help countries grow. In particular, it is before the industrial revolution of the 19th Century that Great Britain developed its identification system. This system was crucial in supporting the economic development of these years, especially because it enabled to secure property rights.

The legislative background

The United Nations declared identification at birth a human right in the Article 7 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, today, almost half of the world population live out their lives unrecorded by any state or civil registration[1]. The largest unregistered populations live in South Asia and on the African continent (both regions together account for 79% of all unregistered births), where until very recently, national systems of civil registration have not succeeded in recording a majority of births.

Developing countries may have struggled with this issues, and this for various reasons

In Tanzania for instance nearly half of children born in the developing world are not registered. Tanzania has one of the lowest rates of birth registration in the world: only 8% of children have birth certificates. Research[2] shows that lack of birth certificate leads to the social reproduction of poverty from one generation to the next, because identity documents are essential in order to benefit from Tanzanian social rights (health in particular).

In Indonesia[3], research shows that the poorer and rural population is the one who had the lowest registration rate. Some measures have been taken by the government in order to improve access to civil registrations services, and to support the families in the process, but many of them are still not part of the system.

The recent call from the international community

In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals launched at the United Nations already focused on health topics, and relied on data for fertility, mortality and causes of death, and underlined that data and measurement of progress were essential. More recently, in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/) also have underlined the need to improve the world’s identification systems (the SDG 16 aims to achieve “legal identity for all, including birth registration” by 2030). The objective is not only to give people access to the basic needs of health, education, etc., but also to take all the populations into account when development progress is measured.

Also, the World Bank launched the Initiative “Identification 4 development” (http://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/id4d) aimed at bringing development partners together, and raising funds to help the poorest countries to develop identification system and make sure that the poorest are registered and can access social services.

The new Development Agenda raises awareness on the issue, and set this civic identification as a priority. We can hope that programs and measures that will be implemented will enable the most of us, and especially the poorest in developing countries, to fulfill their basic needs.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Breckenridge Keith, and Szreter Simon, Registration and Recognition: Documenting the Person in World History, 2012, Oxford: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2012

[2] Birth Rights: Birth registration, health, and human rights in Tanzania, Wood, Summer, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses

[3] Sumner, Cate, Indonesia’s Missing Millions: Erasing Discrimination in Birth Certification in Indonesia, Policy File Policy File, Center for Global Development

 

[1] Setel, Philip W; Macfarlane, Sarah B; Szreter, Simon; Mikkelsen, Lene; Jha, Prabhat; Stout, Susan; Abouzahr, Carla. (2007). A scandal of invisibility: making everyone count by counting everyone. The Lancet, 2007, Vol.370(9598), pp.1569-1577

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