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Dr. Joseph Atick argues for new legal identity definition based on traceability on ID4Africa Livecast



A new definition for legal identity has been unveiled during the latest ID4Africa Livecast by the Movement’s Executive Chairman Dr. Joseph Atick.

The webinar on infant identification and biometrics featured panel contributions from representatives of Simprints, Namibia’s Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security, DHA of South Africa, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

Atick calls details such as who an infant’s parents are and where they were born ‘immutable evidence of origin (IEO)’ characteristics, and their recording in birth registration, provides a foundation or proxy for legal identity.

The definition of legal identity endorsed by the United Nations is: “the basic characteristics of an individual’s identity. e.g. name, sex, place and date of birth conferred through registration and the issuance of a certificate by an authorized civil registration authority following the occurrence of birth.”

Beyond this, the definition provides some further detail on the place of legal identity within a legal ecosystem.

A lack of succinctness hinders the value of this definition, Atick suggests, and he has formulated an alternative one.

“Legal identity is an identity that is traceable,” Atick stated during the Livecast.

UNICEF Programme Division Associate Director and Global Chief of Child Protection Cornelius Williams explained the importance of birth certificates for access to services frequently critical to child welfare.

He cited UN statistics that 40 million infants worldwide are not registered, and even more do not have birth certificates or any other form of digital ID. There are 166 million unregistered children under five years old around the world, most of them in Africa. The situation has improved, but decades of work have decreased unregistered births by only 15 percent.

With less than ten years until the target date for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a dramatic improvement will be needed to provide universal birth registration to meet SDG 16.9.

Linking registration services together in a ‘one-stop shop’ model can bring about transformative change, Williams believes, as it has in Senegal, Tanzania and other countries, and put them on the path towards universal birth registration to establish legal identity with a traceable digital ID. Registration should be twinned with health services, Williams says.

Biometrics can play a role in legal identity for infants, Williams says, but their level of performance is not sufficient for many purposes, and biometrics should not replace existing civil registration systems. More regulations around biometrics must be established by African governments to ensure that if the technology is used, it does not result in any denial of services or human rights.

The webinar also featured presentations on the progress of research efforts on infant fingerprinting by Michigan State University Distinguished Professor Anil Jain and others.

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