Although Aadhaar, India’s national digital identity system, is not compulsory to attend school, many children are denied access across the country. Surveys also reveal that other Aadhaar links are expected for the welfare of pregnant women and poor children up to six years old, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundationthe charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.
In 2014, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Aadhaar could not be the only option to check for welfare. In 2018, the Court ruled that children cannot be excluded from school attendance for not having an Aadhaar number.
Although the law is clear that no Aadhaar is required, the implementation of Aadhaar requirements at the school and local authority level blocks attendance. The Thomson Reuters Foundation report covers families who have moved away and then their children are unable to attend schools in their new area, while children from other families have been prevented from advancing to the next grade.
The report says tens of millions of poor children are at risk of being excluded from benefits or school because they do not have an Aadhaar card. Only 23% of under-fives have an Aadhaar ID card.
Biometrics are also not captured for children aged five and under, which is a problem for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)
“UIDAI may explore other ways to capture the uniqueness of biometric identity of minor children under the age of five, as the uniqueness of identity is the most distinctive feature of Aadhaar established through the biometrics of the individual,” said the ‘Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Operation of the Unique Identification Authority of India’ published in April 2022.
An article from The Reporters’ Collective quoted by Thomson Reuters reveals that the central government is violating the Supreme Court’s ruling that no grants or services can be withheld due to lack of Aadhaar number with a new ruling. The The findings of the Collectif des reporters that the government cut funding to states that do not ensure that children and mothers receiving free food have an Aadhaar account and are in fact required to present a physical Aadhaar card.
The nutritional wellness program, a legal entitlement, covers pregnant and breastfeeding women and 79 million children six months to six years old. As less than a quarter of children under the age of five have an Aadhaar profile, this could mean that tens of millions of children lose food rations and cooked meals from anganwadi welfare centers which must follow all services provided to beneficiaries. States wishing to continue providing food to children without ID will have to fund it themselves.
Anganwadi centers may even have to biometrically verify Aadhaar cardholders in order to dispense welfare.
Benefits distributed through the wider public distribution system also increasingly require Aadhaar, despite the Supreme Court ruling. These even led to the mass deletion of genuine Aadhaar accounts, while the link apparently did not improve the corruption in the system.
UIDAI recently added facial biometrics as a new deduplication modality of Aadhaar.
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