“I feel better identified…”

UN Development Programme
5 min readDec 21, 2022


Having a legal identity is fundamental to human rights

The UN Legal Identity project in Honduras has a special focus on Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQI+, minority population and persons with disabilities. Photo: UNDP/RNP

Percy Santos, a visually impaired college student in Honduras has acquired a technical degree in computer programming and having a new national ID has been like adding another feather in his hat. As one of the beneficiaries of the national ID project, he now has easy access to social benefits because it is a digital authentic ID validated by the government and not a paper ID anymore. “The new ID is designed perfectly for people like me. This is a personal fulfillment. I feel better identified.”

The UN Legal Identity project in Honduras has a special focus on Indigenous peoples, LGBTQI+, minorities and persons with disabilities.

Around 5.4 million people are now enrolled in the new population database in Honduras. This new system has also helped the Honduran authorities to create a more robust electoral database improving the voting system significantly in the 2021 elections. The initiative also helped to reduce distrust in the elections.

Around 5.4 million people are now enrolled in the new population database in Honduras. Photos: UNDP/RNP

People who do not have legal identity, who cannot prove who they are, are likely to end up without opportunities, and very vulnerable in society. The chances of getting a job in the formal economy will be incredibly low. The likelihood of being mainstreamed into the country’s social protection system and benefitting from basic health care systems during pandemics like COVID-19 or during times of conflict or climate emergencies will be negligible. Absence of legal identity is likely to impact insurance, pension or even basic utility services like water, telephone, and gas connection.

The Sustainable Development Goal 16 is to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Under that goal, Target 16.9 specifies that one of the ways to do that is to “By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.”

Part of achieving SDG 16 is to “provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.” Photos (left to right): UNDP Papua New Guinea, UNDP Peru/Mónica Suárez Galindo

Many countries are making attempts to either establish national population registers, national ID schemes, or digital ID programs.

The innovation and technology of the new ID systems is the cornerstone of digital transformation. It helps to improve efficiency in the government public service.

Sierra Leone now has a digital record of six million people who were previously undocumented. Years of armed conflict and the widespread human rights abuses associated with it have been the main causes for internal displacement. UNDP and partners are helping the National Civil Registration Authority to revise policies to integrate the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and statelessness population, so the people who do not have legal documents acquire a National Identification Number (NIN).

Acquiring the NIN means having a driver’s license, being able to get employment and most importantly, having an identity. For the government, it means keeping track of revenues generated from taxes, reduced corruption, proper checks and balances and increased security.

According to Mohamed Mubashir Massaquoi, the Director General of the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) in Sierra Leone, NIN will help in minimizing fraud. It is no secret that there are people who move around with at least five names with different documents to support those names. “We have signed partnership agreement with other institutions for them to contact us for an individual’s personal details,” Massaquoi says.

Zambia has been updating its policies and making registration more accessible. The country has also built an integrated and digital national registration system that covers Zambians from birth to death. The same identity works to vaccinate as well as enroll children in school. UNDP has been a key partner along with other UN agencies — helping the Zambian government to install the integration system in different areas of the country. As a result, Zambia has seen an increased registration of birth from 14.3 percent to 84 percent as of 2022.

“In addition to provision of legal identity from birth to death and its contribution to maintenance of internal security, the integrated national registration system shall provide reliable and timely vital statistics for planning purposes and targeted provision of social services to eligible population groups,” said Jacob Jack Mwiimbu, Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security of Zambia.

Since installing the digital national integration system in different areas of the country, Zambia has seen an increased registration of birth from 14.3 percent to 84 percent as of 2022. Photo: Gregory Saili/UNDP

Mozambique has low civil registration indicators, especially death registration (12.1 percent), birth registration (49 percent). The country is selected as one of the United Nations Legal Identity Agenda pilot countries to improve the registration and national identity database.

Following the situational analysis and recommendation from UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Mozambique UN Country Team developed its Cross-Sectoral UN Legal Identity Implementation Plan for holistic, inter-operable, and sustainable civil registration, vital statistics, and identity management systems.

“The Legal Identity Agenda is a groundbreaking initiative to benefit from migration and guarantee the rights for those who are in the country,” says Myrta Kaulard, UN Resident Coordinator in Mozambique.

Identity cards issued in Mozambique. Photos: Rochan Kadariya/UNDP

Having a legal identity is fundamental to human rights and UNDP is supporting civil registration and national ID systems in more than 25 countries, including Vanuatu, Bangladesh, Palestine, Cameroon and Kenya.

By 2025, the United Nations Legal Identity Agenda Task Force, co-chaired by UNDESA, UNDP and UNICEF, aims to assist UN Member States to enable more than 300 million people to acquire a legal identity.

The registration of births and deaths is very low in many low-income countries — UNICEF estimates that one in four children under age 5 (166 million), on average, are not registered. And even when they are, they may not have proof of registration. Updated 2019 figures estimate that 237 million children under age 5 worldwide are currently without a birth certificate. The World Bank Group (WBG) estimates that around one billion individuals do not possess proof of legal identity, either paper-based or digital.

By Sangita Khadka, Guilherme Larsen, and Risa Arai in UNDP Global Policy Network.