India’s plan to track kids from birth using biometrics hits a roadblock

April 13, 2015 - 

In a meeting last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on officials to ensure that all children below six years are enrolled in the Aadhaar biometric identification system as well as using its online system to track children from birth, according to a report by Business Standard.

The initiative is designed to simultaneously provide each child with a biometric identification number and birth certificate.

The Aadhaar biometric identification system previously only applied to children aged six and above.

Senior government officials said the program’s intention is similar to the US providing children with a Social Security Number at the time of birth to help them open a bank account, attain medical coverage and apply for government services.

Follow Modi’s orders, the Planning Commission (which is now called Niti Aayog) met with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the National Population Registrar (NPR), and other ministries.

The ministries collectively decided to conduct a pilot project in advance of rolling out a comprehensive program for birth registration and capturing the biometric details of the approximately 20 million children born every year in India.

“The pilot project was launched on February 23 at Tigaon primary health centre in Faridabad because of its proximity to the capital,” said a high-ranking government official who asked to be anonymous.

The pilot ran into its share of difficulties, as mothers had to hold their newborns in an upright position for an extended period of time until the computer was able to capture an acceptable image.

Another issue was that the photographs lacked distinguishing facial features. “They (babies) all look the same, so their pictures made no sense,” said the official.

In a March 16 meeting with officials from the UIDAI, NPR, ministry of women and child development, ministry of health and the ministry of human resource development, Niti Aayog concluded that the current approach to providing a biometric identification number to children under the age of six was not a feasible one.

“On simplifying Aadhaar enrollment of children, it was suggested that the requirement of photo of the children serves little purpose and causes considerable hardship and should be dispensed with … UIDAI shall seriously explore the option of exempting child’s photograph and relaxing requirements of name for enrolling children below five years,” according to the meeting’s minutes.

The individual’s name and picture are required for biometric enrollment, however, most children in India are not given a name until days or even weeks after their birth. As such, the officials are considering linking the children’s birth registration number to their parents’ biometric details.

The Indian government is also looking to link the Civil Registration System (CRS), which includes details on the individual’s birth and death, with the NPR database, which includes all other details on the individual. The database would be accessible to all service departments.

“Recalling the directive of the Prime Minister to ensure full enrollment under Aadhaar and to use Aadhaar-based online system to track children from birth, it was suggested that CRS ought to capture all required details on children. Hence, the responsibility for enrollment in Aadhaar at the time of birth registration should lie in a single authority, which is the Registrar of Births, who should be suitably empowered to fulfill the role,” according to the minutes.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.