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The World Citizen: Transforming Statelessness into Global Citizenship

Mariana Dahan's picture

Statelessness is now a systemic challenge affecting over 10 million people in the world, with millions of children placed in vulnerable situations. Experts also note that the statistics on the number of stateless persons have to be revised to account for the intensified cross-border migration and massive refugee influx.

In the last couple of years alone, some fifty thousand Syrian refugee children have been born abroad and over 70 per cent of them have not been registered at birth, making it almost impossible for them to prove their citizenship later on. The issue is of growing concern. Development agencies worry that in countries hosting the 20 largest stateless populations, at least 70,000 stateless children are born each year. What sense and, more importantly, proof of identity will they have?

What is not counted doesn’t count: measuring progress towards the global target on universal identity

Mariana Dahan's picture

Less than a month after the adoption of the new global development agenda – Agenda 2030 – the question “A Legal Identity for All by 2030: What Will It Take?” brought together 32 development practitioners and scholars for a three-day workshop to discuss an answer to this question, and how progress towards a legal identity for all could be measured. The workshop was co-hosted by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) based in New York and the Civil Registration Centre for Development (CRC4D) of The Hague, The Netherlands.

Joining forces to make IDs accessible to all

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​Being able to prove one’s identity is more than a convenience; it is based on fundamental human rights.

​Identification (ID) is indispensable for ensuring access for individuals to educational opportunities, financial services, health and social welfare benefits, economic development, as well as allowing electoral participation for citizens.

​Yet in the developing world, more than two billion people lack an official ID. The problem disproportionately affects children and women, from poor rural areas in Africa and Asia.
The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda highlights the role of robust identification systems and their importance to development — specifically as one of the proposed SDG targets (#16.9), but also as a key enabler of the efficacy of many other SDG targets. Although there is no one model for providing legal identity, this SDG would encourage states provide people with free or low-cost access to widely accepted, robust identity credentials.
Regardless of the modalities to achieve it, unique identification — together with its associated rights — is becoming a priority for governments around the world. The international community should join forces to support this goal. 

​SDG target focusing on identification critical to supporting achievement of post-2015 development goals

Mariana Dahan's picture
Photo: © UNICEF/BANA2012-02020/Jannatul Mawa

This week, multilateral development banks (MDBs) and IMF representatives gathered for Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa (FFD3) committed to extend more than $400 billion in financing over the next three years and vowed to work more closely with private and public sector partners to help mobilize the resources needed to meet the historic challenge of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

From this perspective, FFD3 presented a unique forum for recasting development financing to meet the approach of the post-2015 development agenda. But more is needed. Investment needs in infrastructure alone reach up to US$1.5 trillion a year in emerging and developing countries.

Meeting the staggering but achievable needs of the SDG agenda requires everyone to make the best use of each dollar from every source. This means tracking with precision where, when and to whom has the money been disbursed and for what development end. It requires knowing precisely who the beneficiary was and being able to uniquely establish his/her identity. 

This is the first time that a target relating specifically to identity has been put forward as part of the global goals, as target #16.9: “Provide legal identity to all, including birth registration, by 2030.

Not only there is an intrinsic value of conferring a universal legal identity, but the identity target in the post-2015 development agenda is instrumental in achieving many of the SDGs. Indeed, the provision of robust means of identification would support the achievement of at least 10 goals:

Digital IDs: A powerful platform for enhanced service delivery across all sectors

Mariana Dahan's picture
Lack of personal official identification (ID) prevents people from fully exercising their rights and isolates them socially and economically — voting, legal action, receipt of government benefits, banking, and borrowing are all virtually closed off. The widespread lack of ID in developing countries is a critical stumbling block to national growth.
Digital IDs can help provide access to
critical services, including health care.

Digital IDs, combined with the already extensive use of mobile devices in the developing world, offers a transformative solution to the problem — a simple means for capturing personal ID that can reach far more people, as well as and new, more efficient ways for government and business to reach and serve the population.
Given the importance of the topic, the 2016 World Development Report (WDR) includes a Spotlight on Digital Identity, which has been developed by the authors in collaboration with various stakeholders within and outside the World Bank Group.

The 2016 WDR — the World Bank's major analytical publication — aims to advance our understanding of how economic growth, equity of opportunity and public service delivery are being affected by rapid diffusion of digital technologies. This section in 2016 WDR focuses on critical aspects, such as benefits to developing countries and implementation arrangements for Digital ID programs.

Reflections on the future of legal identity

Mariana Dahan's picture
What is “legal identity” and what might its future hold? This was the question discussed at the Future of Legal Identity Colloquium in The Hague, Netherlands last week.

At this workshop, a variety of social scientists, historians, policy researchers and development practitioners examined the various forms of civil registration and identification currently used and introduced around the world. Participants considered the opportunities and implications of the choices that poor states, in particular, currently face.

An interesting outcome of these eclectic discussions was the need to disentangle the terms “legal identity,” “citizenship,” “identification,” “registration” and “ID documentation.” This will not only allow the international community to properly understand the development problems we are seeking to address, but also help to better identify the ways to achieve them.

Indeed, in some limited respects, people possess a legal identity whether or not they are registered — for example, a criminal suspect’s right to get a lawyer or to remain silent.  Registration, in turn, may not be an entitlement to citizenship. Many countries still see citizenship as based on local or clan-based knowledge and personal attestation.

The number of people with indeterminate citizenship in Africa is probably far larger than the number of stateless people now identified. Sophisticated ID programs cannot resolve such questions and may exacerbate the difficulties of those excluded.  They need to be preceded by political dialogue and, where necessary, legal reforms to reduce the risk of exclusion. An understanding that legal identity exists in many forms encourages us to first ask which legal identity/identities we are seeking to advance and for what developmental ends[1] .

Inspirational stories from connect:ID – the journey to digital IDs for all

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Today marks the end of the connect:ID conference, one of the most influential events in the United States, powered through an alliance with the world’s leading identity industry association.
courtesy of connect:ID

I was honored to be invited to speak on the role of identification in the post-2015 development agenda and the World Bank Group's Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative. There was great deal of excitement in the audience hearing about this global agenda.

The questions raised by the attendants touched upon ways of helping the least-developed, conflict-affected countries in the world, where the rates of birth registration and identification are amongst the lowest in the world (e.g. Liberia), to leapfrog to digital ID systems. Would the World Bank Group support such countries build their identification systems basically from scratch?

In this regard, it was interesting to hear the perspectives brought by a fellow panelist at the conference – Tariq Malik, the former chairman and the architect behind the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) of Pakistan. Starting almost from scratch, NADRA has massively enrolled the traditionally underregistered communities, including tribal groups, transgender populations and women, becoming a central player in a number of program areas. Under Tariq Malik’s leadership, NADRA has pioneered applications of biometric technology, successfully administering smart card programs for disaster relief programs and financial inclusion schemes for the underserved.

Unveiling the value of mobile identity and its role in the digital economy

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At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, topics such as Mobile Identity and Mobile for Development and Inclusion stole the spotlight. Today, it’s becoming clearer that secure digital identities can become the gateways to greater social welfare, more inclusive and transparent government and, of course, economic growth.
For its tenth anniversary, the Mobile World Congress had more than 2,100 companies showcasing their innovations in front of record-breaking audiences: over 93,000 attendees from 200 countries. 

The GSM Association (GSMA) also hosted a seminar program to educate conference participants on industry initiatives such as Connected Women programme: a timely undertaking that promotes gender diversity in the telecommunications sector.
Mobile identity offers a means of extending access to a vast array of services, such as mobile banking and mobile health, to everyone, particularly those who have been previously marginalized, including women and those living in poverty. The ability to get an identity that is verifiable online is a transformational capability that can grant access to banking, mobile payments and healthcare, as well as transportation and other advanced identity-based digital services.
At the most fundamental level, the planning and delivery of economic and social support programs relies on the government’s knowledge of its citizens: who they are, where they live, their social and economic circumstances, and so on. Utilizing mobile devices to register and validate an identity offers a compelling opportunity for governments and businesses to authenticate and then provide access to a broad range of digital services.

The criterion problem: Measuring the legal identity target in the post-2015 agenda

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 Legal identity credentials are essential for social protection
and full participation in societies and economies.

​The proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target #16.9 puts the spotlight on the role of identification in development:
“By 2030 provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.”

In our earlier research, we’ve explored how achieving this goal can facilitate the realization of many other SDG targets.  The recognition of legal identity – together with its associated rights – is becoming a priority for governments around the world. But how should progress towards this goal be measured? 

The SDG process is led by United Nations (UN) member states with broad participation from other stakeholders. Currently, an inter-agency group is establishing the list of quantitative indicators for monitoring progress towards the SDG goals. The final list of core indicators, developed using specific criteria, is not intended to be prescriptive, but rather to take into account the country setting and the views of stakeholders in preparing country-level reports.

Several criteria are guiding this effort to determine which core indicators should be retained: they should be relevant, methodologically sound, measurable and easy to understand and communicate. Both the World Bank and the Center for Global Development have been contributing to the discussions on the core indicators to measure progress on SDG goals. 

Means versus ends: Deconstructing the Sustainable Development Goals and the role of identification

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The post-2015 development agenda is being shaped as we speak. The United Nations recently released a report that synthesizes the full range of inputs received from various stakeholders. These inputs, among which the ones from the World Bank Group, are a substantive contribution to the intergovernmental negotiations in the lead up to the September 2015 Summit that will officially launch the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

But today, with 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs are a big mouthful for the global development community to chew on, let alone to digest. Some see a risk that they will be simply unimplementable.

However, the problem becomes a little more manageable if we reflect on the means towards the goals. Not all of the goals are unrelated. Measures towards some targets can open up new ways to achieve others. 

Consider, for example, target 16.9: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. These are actually two different, though related, targets as explained in the recent working paper by the Center for Global Development. Regardless the modalities to achieve it, the recognition of legal identity – together with its associated rights – is becoming a priority for governments around the world. Although there is no one model for providing legal identity, this SDG would urge states to ensure that all have free or low-cost access to widely accepted, robust identity credentials.[1]

With legal identity – including name, nationality and recognized family relationships – one of the basic human rights set out in the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be achieved and target 16.9 can stand on its own merits.