The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Addressing Invisibility? Probing India's Aadhaar Card and its Promise of Inclusion.

Universal or unique identification systems are all the range. Over 100 countries world wide use identity cards to short circuit cumbersome identification procedures across a broad range of situations, from rationing food to monitoring terrorist threats. This proliferation includes countries in the global south. From Pakistan to Nigeria, from Afghanistan to South Africa, governments struggling with dramatic social inequality, very significant deficits in civic identification including birth registration, and inefficient/corrupt systems of welfare distribution, are turning to forms of universal and unique identification as a potential solution. India, the world's largest democracy and home to its most numerous population of people living below $1.25 a day, is no exception. The Aadhaar Card, an identifier based on biometric information and therefore unique to each individual, was introduced by the Indian Government in 2009. Enrollment in Aadhaar has been brisk and is expected to reach one billion people by the end of this year. Two key promises lay at the heart of this highly funded and politically visible initiative. One was that Aadhaar would reach hitherto invisible or unreached populations and enable them to access welfare and other benefits to which they were entitled. The second was that the card would promote benefit "portability" - ensuring that the millions of migrant workers moving east to west or south to north would not lose out on their entitlements because of documentary deficits. Have these promises of inclusion been met? My paper will probe this issue and review the evidence so far available relating to it. In the process it will also raise broader questions about the concerns associated with the spread of universal identification systems.

Event reference: 
The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity