Giving the Marginalized an Identity

How mobile technology is helping make every citizen count

Pilar Lagos
Ahmad, 17, talks about his long ordeal trying to migrate to Saudi Arabia
31 March 2016

In order to connect the most marginalized populations, the government of India created a nationwide biometric data project to make every citizen count. With the collection of 10 fingerprints, iris scans and demographic information, the biometric ID assigns a person a 12-digit number called the Aadhaar number. According to the World Bank, India’s digital identification system has reached close to one billion people (close to 85 per cent of the population) enabling many of the poor to have access to services. With the use of technology, governments can better promote the inclusion of the most marginalized groups in society.

Pause for a moment and think about it. Without a proper identity, a person might not be able to graduate from school, or even enroll in school for that matter. It might also mean being unable to obtain a passport to travel out of the country. Voting? That would be out of the question. How about opening a bank account, starting a business, or applying for a loan to buy a house? Unthinkable. Sometimes we get frustrated about filling out a simple form for any of these things, but imagine having to leave the form empty for lack of a proper identity.


Here are more examples of how technology is revolutionizing the future of identity:


In developed countries, children are registered upon birth. In developing nations, that is not always the case. A birth certificate is key to ensure a child’s right to basic social services, like education and health care. For example, in Nigeria, out of the 5 million babies born annually, 70 per cent were not being registered at birth. To tackle this issue, UNICEF Innovation helped build the largest mobile health system in Nigeria. With RapidSMS, Nigeria has reported more than 18 million births by SMS.

UNICEF’s Mobile Birth Registration Initiative: 
Did you know that more than 90% of children in east Africa’s second largest economy have no birth certificates? This, despite a law mandating that new babies be registered. For families living in rural areas, bad roads make it impossible to travel the distance to government agencies to secure birth certificates. In 2013, UNICEF embarked on an initiative employing mobile technology to make birth registrations simple, affordable, and widely accessible.

Mobile registration initiative in Tanzania.
Dana Zucker
Mobile registration initiative in Tanzania.

The Government of Tanzania, UNICEF, Tigo, and VSO, with funding from the Canadian government, developed and  implemented a mobile application to register children under five. The mobile application simplified the birth registration process by allowing health workers to enter registration information into a mobile phone and transfer the data through SMS to a central database in the Registration, Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency (RITA), which is the Government Agency responsible for Birth Registration in Tanzania.

Bitnation: Refugee Emergency Response:
Bitnation Refugee Emergency Response (BRER) is a Humanitarian Aid Project of Bitnation that helped facilitate and provide Emergency Services and Humanitarian Aid to refugees during the European Refugee Crisis of September 2015. By utilizing Blockchain technology, Bitnation is able to authenticate and validate identification through a Blockchain Emergency ID.  The purpose is to prove the existence of an individual and family ties, which is recorded on the Horizon blockchain, a distributed public ledger (like an international public notary, of sorts).

In an interview with CoinDesk, Chris Fabian, UNICEF Innovation Co-Lead talked about the potential of blockchain to provide a form of identification.


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