Challenges Facing Lost Children: Formal Identification

How does lack of formal identification affect children’s opportunities to thrive? And how does acquiring it help?

Please share any thoughts, experiences, or examples you might have!

I think the problems associated with children lacking a formal or legal identity seem to be well articulated in reports and studies. But it is unclear to me if acquiring legal identity actually resolves many of them. I’d be very interested to read micro-level comparative or longitudinal studies that elaborate on this.

@Damiano Would love to hear your thoughts on the above question and if it’s come up for you in your work/experience.

Lost young children, in the scenarios described, could be particularly challenging:

  • We can't rely on asking the children where they were born, where their parents are, or where they have been living - as they might not know or be unable to say.
  • We can't be sure the adults with them are their official guardians (but we can do DNA tests for parenthood).

This makes me ponder as to whether technologies can be used to help:

  • Bio-metrics (including DNA) to provide unique person identifiers.
  • Crime scene investigation like approaches to establish where people have been (e.g. unique location specific chemical traces in hair (or nails) [?]

However, data security associated with such approaches would be paramount to ensure privacy and integrity.

Thanks, @akb. We definitely agree that data security and privacy is paramount to any system. Do you have any thoughts on how these new forms of official identification may positively impact outcomes for children?

@akb @BryanNamba

I think that this XPrize challenge should focus on, or, should include, identifying/applying new technologies to assist parents in registering/recording their children’s births (immediately or shortly after birth)…this could be facilitated via cell phone (application) technologies (that work through the phone’s camera) insofar as even in impoverished communities and populations (war or climate refugees, etc.) cell phone usage and ownership is common (where it may be less so, often, families share one cellular device).

So, one approach to this challenge could be a call/challenge to design an app (or several) that easily enable birth documentation – even without reliable access to a cellular network (but perhaps using the cloud as a backup/safety measure if network access is had).

However, in cases where a human population is escaping a climate change disaster, war, atrocities [genocide], gang violence, etc., such devices may be lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair/use (or simply lose power and not be rechargeable). Further, authorities controlling these populations could confiscate such devices (for political reasons such as preventing communication to the outside world about a refugee crisis caused by ‘state actors’).

Note: there is the issue of proprietary access to a network that one’s cell network carrier may not belong to.

So then, lacking a cell phone, or lacking access to the internet via a computer/tablet/PDA, an XPrize challenge could stipulate that some alternative(s) to a cellular (or Internet) app be proposed; under such conditions, how would one enable simple, rapid, and secure documentation of a birth?

In the cases mentioned, an XPrize here would then need to have two components (two solution deliverables): 1] an ‘app’ or website – given access to cellular or computer networks, 2] an ‘alternative’ means/method – given a lack of any/reliable access to cellular or computer networks (a demonstration, or reduction-to-practice would be required here for both possibilities).

Note: in the latter case (#2) above, the use of biometrics (i.e., the recording of biometric data) could be quite useful, but which must still be gathered, preserved and secured somehow (@akb) - In a recent model ‘UN City’ exhibition (Copenhagen, Denmark, sponsored by the UNHCR, October 2017) a ‘biometric registration booth’ was set up so that visitors “could learn more about the importance and process of refugee registration.”

An additional (or complimentary) challenge question would be: How would one preserve this data until such time as it can be safely secured (e.g., through digital or analogue means) or delivered to an aid agency?

Another potentially important consideration here is the at birth or post birth (in the case of a slightly older infant; anytime from a few months to a few years*****) documentation must conform with the legal standards (i.e., the legal requirements for all persons seeking refugee/asylum assistance/aid/placement) of the region in which the refugees find themselves; this could be another country with a differing ethno-religious and/or legal/judicial culture, or, a more complicated bureaucratic state.

  • There is disagreement as to how long the ‘average’ refugee stays in a refugee camp. According to the World Bank (as of 2015) the ‘median duration of exile’ is 4 years (half the refugees worldwide have spent 4 or fewer years in exile ; historically, since 1991, the duration has ranged from 4 to 14 years, and is now “at an historical low.” (1). However, according to one non-profit website quoting a UN expert, “the average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years.” (2) This latter count surpasses the historical high-end range noted by the World Bank.

This duration of exile could both aid the birth registration effort, and, potentially undermine it (as older children, still lacking such documentation, could be kidnapped or trafficked before they are counted or identified by aid agencies).

End Note References:


Good points in your above comment @marz62 :slight_smile:

I really like the idea of an XPRIZE for the registration of births. It could be provided, in its simplest form, as a website that collects the identifying photos (face, fingerprints, hair colour, body shape, etc.).

The use of AI could also be used to rapidly search for matches - and extrapolate as people age, matching people years after those photos were taken.

Given the instability, conflict, corruption and anti-democratic behaviour within some nations, and given the global nature of refugees, it seems to me that only one organisation can be trusted with the hosting of this service (and the securing of the database and its use): the United Nations (UN).

@akb - Agreed. The UN – as an over-arching supra-national entity is in an ideal position to coordinate refugee registration efforts (and indeed, it is currently doing so, though with collaborative help from NGOs and foundations);

Also, the use of AI here could be invaluable – this need NOT be implemented via cloud platform or remote digital network access, but rather, in a stand-alone AI platform (transmissible via external/portable/thumb drives if laptops or tablets are available)…But the main point being: there should always be **an alternative **(to the current standard of high-tech communication (i.e., a ‘low tech’ even ‘analogue’ method, however temporary). I used the phrase ‘new technologies’ (above) but a ‘alternative’ solution could include ‘old tech’ as well – I quite like the idea of ‘hacking’ existing technology (even completely manual technology) to accomplish our end goal here.

@akb - Lastly - I over-looked the 4th bullet point in your initial comment: “Crime scene investigation like approaches to establish where people have been (e.g. unique location specific chemical traces in hair (or nails)”

My recent work background (legal research) involved much forensic science study/critique…so, this is quite in my wheelhouse! I think this potential (of using forensic science techniques) should be explored in depth. On that note: a current trend in forensic science research involves microscopic analysis of pollen grains (in clothing, in hair, in lung tissue, etc.) to identify place of origin (of forensic evidence/bodies collected at a scene); pollen exists in nearly every region of the planet and presents unique features owing to the unique (plant, tree, shrub) source…which often can be traced to specific geographic locations.

This type of forensic analysis could aid/support refugee identity verification through identifying the ‘most likely place of origin’ (possibly of a larger population or group of refugees).

@marz62 Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. You raised some excellent points that have been coming up through our research such as the digital divide and the added barriers for birth registration during times of conflict, crisis, or disasters.

Many individuals we have spoken with agree that a prize focused on registration or legal identification would have a huge impact in the world. It could open up doors to state services and help with migration. What are your thoughts how legal identification could help unlock opportunity for these children?

@BryanNamba - Your welcome. I will do some thinking on this and get back to you relatively promptly :slight_smile:

@BryanNamba - I was able to do some thinking and a bit of research on this (your questions in your last post). Here are my thoughts:

Apart from the already noted access to healthcare (e.g., vaccinations, blood tests, illness/injury treatment, perinatal care, mental health therapy, etc) and educational services (such as new language learning to assist with assimilation in a new host country), a formal/standardized, refugee registration process (with a State-acceptable form of identification) could open a pathway to a stable living environment for refugees.

We can all agree that experiencing war – with its massive loss of life and environmental destruction – is a highly de-stabilizing experience; there is mass displacement, families are riven apart, homes are destroyed, normal daily routines are altered/disrupted, injuries and illnesses become pervasive (whether in the home country or in a refugee camp).

Refugees exist in a sort of ‘limbo’ in terms of their national status and citizenship. As such, refugees become nearly ‘invisible’ (being seen only as the subjects of a mass migration emergency, or objects of a nativist protest, if at all). Being registered and being issued official (if temporary) identification is a way of saying “I am here! I exist!”

With a formal registration and identification process in place, refugees have a clearer pathway to a re-stabilized existence – one with additional opportunities that flow from this stability, such as the opportunity for proper housing, extended schooling, career development, and community building.

Also, in parallel to this re-stabilizing of existence (and, as a Sept. 23 *New York Times *story has reported), child refugees may also be re-united with their parents and other family members (provided this is not hampered by a punitive immigration policy on the part of a hosting State).

We can easily forget that mass migration due to war, disaster, or famine (as just three examples) breaks up families – often forcing members to leave their families and native land to find assistance or work elsewhere (not always in the same destination country).

Further, upon arriving at a designated relocation site (e.g., a UN-established refugee camp), those in charge may inadvertently exacerbate family separation. And, well prior to arrival at a camp, children and other family members may be kidnapped, pressed into labor or military service, or become ill and have to stay behind or be transported to another location to receive limited medical services. Simple inconsistencies in bureaucratic procedures (by the State, or the aid agency, or both) can also enable the separation of children from their families – causing some members of a family to be relocated ahead of, or behind, other members.

For a child, is there any more fundamental form of psychological-existential destabilization than the disruption of, and separation from, one’s family?

And, of course, how can this human destabilization problem be addressed or remedied if we do not know who is being affected? If we acknowledge that a lack of registration/identification renders refugees – virtual ‘stateless’ citizens – nearly ‘invisible’ (exposing them to all manner of neglect and abuses, some intentional, some not)…then we must acknowledge also that any ‘solution’ to a humanitarian crisis (and the concomitant instability it produces) must start with making refugees ‘visible’ to the state in which they reside (however temporarily).

When we recognize the *direction connection *between possessing proper identification (through registration) and a stable human existence (the lack of which fosters a host of other problems to both refugees and host nations)…then we can at least begin to remedy this fundamental negative outcome that underlies all humanitarian crises.

I would only add – if it is necessary to do so – that included in the idea of ‘stability’ is a refugee’s *mental-psychological *stability. Given the duration of stay (average) in a camp (previously sited), it would seem highly likely that the longer one stays in a refugee camp, the more likely one is to succumb to despair …even depression (or develop other psychological disorders). This is perhaps even more pronounced among children (who have had fewer years of life o develop resilience to adverse circumstances). Thus it follows that if official registration and identification (issuance, etc.) is the steppingstone to ‘life stability’ (i.e., meeting one’s essential life/economic/social needs, as noted) then it is likewise a steppingstone to good mental health as well. Obviously, good mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand and are inter-dependent.

@marz62 Thank you for all of these thoughts! Very helpful and definitely support a lot of what we’ve seen in our research and heard from our interviews thus far.

Sorry fellows!
I seem to have lost myself.
Are we talking about only LOST CHILDREN, or ABONDONED CHILDREN are also of concern to us here?
Are we looking at things from a developed countries’ point of view where all the technologies are available or under and undeveloped ones also?
Is only a paper of registration VISIBLE, the chid himself is NOT?
The moment we talk about UN, are all the persons world wide not under its domain?
This seems to say that registration is above existence.
Life is useless without a register?
With us there is an old saying " there is only one mouth to feed but two hands to arrange for"………….