Aadhaar still blocking school attendance, expected block for pregnancy welfare
Despite Aadhaar, India’s national digital identity scheme, not being a requirement to attend school, many children are being denied access across the country. Investigations also reveal that further Aadhaar links are expected for welfare for pregnant women and poor children up to six, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.
In 2014, India’s Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar could not be the only option to verify oneself for welfare. In 2018 the Court ruled that children cannot be excluded from school attendance for not having an Aadhaar number.
While the law is clear in that no Aadhaar is needed, school- and local authority-level implementation of Aadhaar requirements is blocking attendance. The Thomson Reuters Foundation report covers families that have moved and then their children are unable to attend schools in their new area, while children in other families have been blocked from moving up into the next grade.
The report states there are tens of millions of poor children at risk of exclusion from benefits or school as they do not have Aadhaar cards. Only 23 percent of under-fives have Aadhaar ID.
Biometrics are also not captured of children five and under, causing something of a conundrum for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)
“UIDAI may explore alternate ways to capture uniqueness of biometric identity for minor children below five years since uniqueness of identity is the most distinctive feature of Aadhaar established through biometrics of the individual,” stated the ‘Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Functioning of Unique Identification Authority of India’ published in April 2022.
At article by The Reporters’ Collective cited by Thomson Reuters reveals that the central government is violating the Supreme Court ruling that no subsidy or service can be denied because of a lack of Aadhaar number with a new decision. The Reporters’ Collective finds that the government is cutting funding to states that do not ensure that children and mothers receiving free food have an Aadhaar account, and must in fact present a physical Aadhaar card.
The nutrition welfare program, a legal entitlement, covers pregnant and breastfeeding women and 79 million children from six months to six years. As fewer than a quarter of children under five have an Aadhaar profile, this could mean tens of millions of children lose food rations and cooked meals from anganwadi welfare centers which have to track all services given to recipients. States wanting to still provide nutrition to children without ID will have to fund it themselves.
Anganwadi centers may even have to biometrically verify Aadhaar card holders in order to dispense welfare.
Benefits dispensed via the broader Public Distribution System also increasingly require Aadhaar, despite the Supreme Court Ruling. These have even led to genuine Aadhaar accounts being deleted in huge numbers, while the link has reportedly not improved corruption in the system.
The UIDAI recently added face biometrics as a new modality for de-duplication of Aadhaar.