Illustration of an abstract puzzle
#Identity Technology

8 billion people, 850 million phantoms

5 Mins.

Every 10th person on Earth still lacks a legal identity, even as we pass the milestone of 8 billion people on the planet. The UN has made universal access to legal identity a human right. Progress is being made in critical areas, but we must remain committed to making sure every person on Earth finally has a legal identity. So they have access to critical social benefits like healthcare and education, and can enter the global financial system.

November 15, 2022, was “The Day of Eight Billion,” according to the United Nations.1 This is a huge milestone, by any measure: it was the day that the planet’s population breached another barrier, with 8 billion people on Earth currently.

A recent report by the World Bank and Findex Survey also found that about 850 million people globally do not have access to official identification.2 Most of this population is concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and includes disproportionately high numbers of women, as well as children under the age of 5.

Mixture of multi-ethnic printed portraits scattered over a yellow background

Most population growth is concentrated in precisely those places that can least afford it, while the fact that a significant portion of those populations lack official identification means they can’t access healthcare, education, and other social benefits, or the global financial system. The only way out of this is through an ongoing commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Specifically, SDG 16.9 calls for every human being on the planet to have a legal identity by 2030. It identifies a legal identity as a human right. To that end, 100% of births must be recorded and registered, and 80% of deaths. While the data this would furnish is critical, the aim is larger: without legal identities, any sort of social and economic inclusion becomes a challenge.

“A legal identity is a prerequisite for modern life in a connected world. We firmly believe that a legal identity is a human right.“
Marc-Julian Siewert
CEO Veridos

Legal identities change lives

A legal identity is taken for granted by most people on Earth. But for those who don’t have one, there are obstacles literally everywhere. The importance of personal identity in a legal sense cannot be overstated.

As far as nations go, the disadvantages of having substantial numbers of people without valid legal IDs are clear. Among many others, these disadvantages include

  • The possibility of election manipulation
  • Inefficient targeting of social benefits
  • A lack of tax monitoring
  • Restrictions in educational access for younger people

At the individual level, the very real disadvantages of not having a legal identity include

  • Lack of access to the banking sector
  • Restrictions on travel and its benefits
  • Loss of quality of life (getting a new phone account is hard without an ID, for example)
  • Lack of electoral franchise (you can’t vote)
  • Inheritance (you must first prove who you are)
  • Lack of access to social and financial support from the state

“A legal identity is a prerequisite for modern life in a connected world,” explains Marc-Julian Siewert, CEO of Veridos, a joint venture between G+D and Germany’s Bundesdruckerei. A legal identity is a human right, he adds: only with a legal identity can an individual participate in social, political, and economic life.

Let’s unpack this, with a focus on financial inclusion. Among the reasons that people are unbanked, or underbanked, globally, one stands out in the current context: a complete lack of, or inadequate, documentation. This can be seen in various immigrant communities around the world. It can also be seen with people who have never left the countries they were born in. Identification is almost always required to open an account, or otherwise gain access to the modern financial system. Now that smartphones have opened up even hitherto remote markets, it is imperative that digital technology be leveraged in granting universal access to trusted, efficient ID systems.

The target is clear, then – but when will the world achieve it?

Registration at birth is key

Registration at birth is fundamental to ascribing legal identities to citizens. Huge strides have been made by governments and their partners to this end. In 2000, 60% of children under the age of 5 worldwide were registered with their respective countries. By 2019, this figure had risen to 75%.3 UNICEF estimates that globally, 237 million children under 5 lack a valid ID. Without that increase in registration, there would be 100 million more children who have no legal ID, and UNICEF’s figure would have been closer to 350 million unregistered children! There are grounds for cautious optimism, but all stakeholders need to stay committed to making sure SDG 16.9 is actually met by its target date, i.e., 2030.

Let’s look at Bangladesh. It has 160 million people, and is also growing quickly as an economy. While it has struggled historically to register its children at birth, this process is now trending quickly upward. It registered 12% of its children in 2006. By 2019, this figure had risen to 56%.4 Furthermore, Bangladesh has demonstrated an impressive commitment to innovative, tech-led solutions. Veridos has partnered with the government to produce ePassports, the first of which was delivered in 2020. This is an example of how agility and partnerships can lead to innovative solutions being delivered on the ground.

Facts & Figures

0% in 2000

Children <5 worldwide with legal IDs

0% in 2019

Children <5 worldwide with legal IDs

0% = 100 million

More children <5 with legal IDs

A man checks in with his digital identity card on his smartphone

How realistic a target is 2030?

There are three pillars to a legal identity:

  • Reliable registry
  • Proof of identity
  • Protecting the user (and the state) against misuse

The technological underpinning and solutions already exist. If they are put in place and implemented, it is possible to achieve SDG 16.9 from a technical point of view. Tech-driven companies, Veridos and G+D among them, stand ready to partner with governments in granting their citizens these documents. Indeed, they already are, as the rising numbers of people worldwide with valid IDs bear out.

There is a worldwide political consensus in giving populations access to legal IDs. On the corporate side, more and more companies are signing on to the UN Global Compact, as Veridos has already done.

We can look forward with some clarity to a world where everyone can finally have a legal identity, as long as everyone stays on track for the same goals. 

Key takeaways

  • 850 million people worldwide still don’t have access to legal identities, limiting their access to banking, travel, voting rights, government services, etc.
  • This disproportionately affects children born in the poorest countries.
  • Some nations, such as Bangladesh, are demonstrating how political will, coupled with technical expertise, can help register huge numbers of children at birth.
  1. Day of Eight Billion, United Nations, 2022

  2. ID4D Global Dataset, World Bank/Findex Survey, 2023

  3. What is birth registration and why does it matter? Leah Selim/Unicef, 2019

  4. Completeness of birth registration (Bangladesh), World Bank

Published: 05/06/2023

Share this article

Subscribe to our newsletter

Don’t miss out on the latest articles in G+D SPOTLIGHT: by subscribing to our newsletter, you’ll be kept up to date on latest trends, ideas, and technical innovations – straight to your inbox every month.

Please supply your details: