A recent report released by the World Bank reveals that an estimated one billion people worldwide do not have any basic ID documents, including as many as one in four children and youth whose births have never been registered.
The majority of this "invisible billion" live in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, according to the report.
Many more have IDs that cannot be trusted because they are poor quality or cannot be reliably verified, the World Bank report “Inclusive and Trusted Digital ID Can Unlock Opportunities for the World’s Most Vulnerable.”
The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that in many sub-Saharan African countries rural birth registration for children under five is less than 50 percent.
“The majority of the ‘invisible billion’ live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. They are typically members of the poorest and most vulnerable groups. Women are disproportionately less likely to have official proof of identity, according to the ID4D-Findex survey. Furthermore, refugees, stateless persons, people with disabilities, and people living in rural and remote areas often face the greatest hurdles to obtaining official IDs,” the report highlighted.
This invisibility, according the report, has significant implications for a range of development outcomes that depend on delivering services to people or on them being able to access services. Without a secure and trusted way to prove their identity, people without IDs “will often find themselves unable to access critical healthcare and social services, enroll in school, open a bank account, obtain a mobile phone, get a job, vote in an election, or register a business in the formal sector, along with other basic services, rights, and opportunities that would empower them to improve their lives,” reads the report.
“IDs are taken for granted by those who have them. But lack of identification creates barriers for each individual affected and for the countries they live in,” World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure, Makhtar Diop, is quoted as saying.
Given the critical role of identification for development, one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals includes the target of “provid[ing] legal identity for all, including birth registration” by 2030.
“Identification is also a key enabler of many other SDG goals and targets, such as financial and economic inclusion, social protection, health care and education, gender equality, child protection, agriculture, good governance, and safe and orderly migration,” reads the report.
“Inclusive and trusted digital ID systems can also strengthen the transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness of governance and the delivery of public services and programs. They can help the public sector reduce fraud and leakage in government-to-person (G2P) transfers, facilitate new modes of service delivery, and increase overall administrative efficiency. Being able to reliably and easily verify a person’s identity is also critical for private sector development. Digital ID systems can help companies reduce operating costs associated with regulatory compliance… widen customer bases, generate new markets, and foster a business-friendly environment more broadly,” the report found.
“As societies and economies become more complex, interconnected, and dynamic, and as the formalization, scale and digitalization of public programs increases, so does the need to be able to prove and verify who is who in an accurate and reliable manner. Countries and communities have rapidly progressed from informal, localized identification approaches based on personal connections to country-wide identification systems, national IDs for instance, often supported by digital technologies. This has enabled more convenient and more secure in-person and remote transactions, paving the way to access opportunities in the digital economy,” reads the report.