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National Identity

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] .

Towards a world that counts: an ID for every woman and every child

Mariana Dahan's picture

This week, the World Bank is hosting the Data2X and the Gender Data Revolution event to draw attention to some of the most disturbing issues in development. Too many people are still uncounted. Too much data is out of date, unreliable or simply not available. Too many people are not able to access and use the data they need to make informed decisions and hold others accountable.

Lack of data on women and girls has hindered efforts to advance gender equality and design evidence-based policies that can lift the multiple constraints holding them back – and shed light on many aspects of their work, health, economic status, financial inclusion, ownership of and control of assets, access to services, voice, and agency. In many countries, particularly in the developing world, these data simply do not exist.

Created by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,Data2X is an exciting initiative that aims to build new partnerships to improve data collection and demonstrate how better data on the status of women and girls can guide policy, leverage investments and inform global development priorities.

All over the world, women are denied basic services and protection of their rights because of deficient civil registration and national identification (ID) systems. Lacking records of their birth and civil status, they are excluded from health coverage, schooling, social protection programs, and humanitarian response in emergencies and conflicts.

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

Mariana Dahan's picture
 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. 

Measuring Public Opinion in Challenging Contexts

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

As we have discussed in other blog posts, public opinion is particularly important in countries with weak institutions of governance and accountability. Especially in fragile and conflict states, it can lend legitimacy to the government, help creating a national identity, and support governance reform. Unfortunately, public opinion is particularly hard to measure in those societies where it could be most important.