Who are the invisible ones in the world?

According to the dictionary, the term ‘citizen’ refers to an individual who, as a member of a State, enjoys civil and political rights guaranteed by such State and carries out the duties assigned to them per this condition’. Thus, for the status of citizenship to be achieved, the first step that needs to be completed is the civil registration of the individual immediately after their birth.

(…) upon the act of the civil registry of birth, the child is granted a first name, surname, nationality, affiliation, and rights to health and education.

If that act is not completed, in legal terms, it is as if the person did not exist, preventing them from having guaranteed access to their own citizenship, with no possibility of aspiration to evolve in life.

In this context, the opposite of citizenship is invisibility. There are millions of invisible individuals, unnamed, with no birth date, and with no protection of life. Invisible, without access to citizenship and essential services, and without dignity.

The data available on these millions of people, even though imprecise, allow us to draft an invisibility map, bringing more visibility into the actual situation of the lack of ID and the reality of those who do not have official documents.

The problem of lack of ID is a global one

According to the World Bank, based on data provided by its Identity for Development (ID4D) initiative, around 14% of the world’s population lives without ID. To be more figure-specific, it is estimated that approximately 1 billion people are considered ‘invisible’ to their States.

The absence of personal ID is a reality present worldwide, but in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, this situation is overwhelming. Approximately 45% of the population in the area lack identification and, when analyzed in absolute figures, it corresponds to just over half of all the people in the world in this situation.

Socio-economically vulnerable regions are the ones most lacking in identity

Although almost half of the population without identity is located in countries that are among the world’s 10 most populous ones, such as Índia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, these countries do not have high percentages of their population without ID.

This is the case with India. Although the country has, alone, the largest number of people without identification, i.e. around 162 million people, this figure corresponds only to 12% of its population – a relatively low percentage.

Indeed, it is the most socio-economically vulnerable countries that present the highest percentages of unregistered population, meaning that these countries lack efficient identification structures, social systems, and programs that can reduce the under-registration rate among children and adults.

Among the 10 countries with the highest percentage rates of unregistered population, 40% of them are classified as low income and another 40% as low-middle income. All of these, without exception, are located in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, the region of the world most affected by this problem.

Low-income countries and percentages of the population without IDD

  • Somalia (77%)
  • Ethiopia (65%)
  • Chad (53%)
  • South Sudan (53%) –

Low-middle income countries and percentages of the population without ID

  • Nigeria (72%)
  • Eritrea (70%)
  • Zambia (56%)
  • Angola (56%)

This reality can be evidenced by a simple comparison between the previous graph of the percentage of the population without identity per country and the world graph of nominal GDP per country. Although this factor is not the only one that has a negative influence in the context of identification, there is a high correlation between socioeconomic development, access to public and/or individual financial capital, and access to formal identification by the population.

  • 92% of the people without identity are classified in the low or low-middle income categories

If we dive deeper into the previous topic, in general, when analyzing low-income groups, we observe a great difficulty in accessing essential services and opportunities for social development. The same is true of identity, these subsets of global society are obviously at a disadvantage and represent the largest portion of the world population without ID.

We can also note, although on a smaller scale, the lack of identification in groups with high or high-middle income. These are more common in the regions of the Middle East and North of Africa, as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Some countries in this situation stand out for their duality in the relationship between capital and formal ID registration, namely: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Singapore. They all feature, according to the World Bank Index, among the 20 countries in the world with the highest GDP per capita; however, they respectively have 60%, 43%, and 37% of their populations with no official record.

  • Women are the most affected by the lack of formal ID

Gender gaps are evident when talking about identification. In general, even though the total and percentage difference is not too great, it is noted that women are more susceptible to not having a formal record than men.

This problem becomes more acute when we analyze certain groups of countries with similar characteristics and/or at an individual scale. In low-income countries, 1 in every 2 women do not have an identity document and, in some countries, such as Afghanistan, Chad, and South Sudan, the gender-based gap in access to documentation amounts to a total percentage difference of 50%, 35%, and 20%, respectively.

We must not forget that there are still other motivators, other than income, that, although not directly considered in the public databases of identification and civil registration, have a massive weight in increasing this gender gap. Society models that were created and promoted based on sexist structures consider women as inferior or secondary, making access to documentation restricted, limiting their access to essential services and their participation in the political and economic sphere.

Identity is an effective tool for individuals to build trust. An inclusive national identification system is certainly a challenging step, but an essential one to building a better society.

As the data show, certain characteristics and social aspects still have a major weight in defining directly or indirectly whether an individual will have access to identification. The main one is the location/region of birth.

The birth of an individual in the Sub-Saharan Africa region already has them at a disadvantage when it comes to, at least officially, existing. The odds are even lower if this individual is part of a low-income group and female.

Cooperation and collaboration are needed to develop national civil identification and registration programs that can change this reality so that we can provide dignity and citizenship to millions of individuals worldwide.

*Since people without formal identification are not even registered in government public databases, the data available is an estimate based on the information and models available for the purpose of analysis.

For more information on the methodology, access this link.

Igor Moraes Gonçalves

Igor Moraes has been working in the digital identity and onboarding sector since 2018. He is currently a Partner at idwall and works as Business Developer Coordinator of MeuID, the first digital identity in Brazil. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from UNICAMP, with an extension in innovation and technology from the Universidad de Granada (Spain). Learn more about it in the newsletter.