South African children may be required to register their identity details with the government upon turning five years old. This forms part of a new recommendation made by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to curb identity theft.

According to a government gazette published on December 31, the current system of identification is 20 years old and “is not based on a policy that considers key local and global developments in managing official personal information.”

Among the many issues the DHA raises with the current system, they highlight that it is possible for anyone who has not applied for an ID (smart ID card or ID book) to successfully claim and use the identity of another person who has also not applied for an ID.

“This is possible because children’s biometrics were not captured. The DHA currently has no way to reliably verify that a child who presents a birth certificate as proof of identity during interactions with the department, e.g. when applying for an ID for the first time, is truly the person whose birth the certificate is meant to certify,” reads the gazette.

“Any child can lay claim to the identity of another child and such instances have been recorded. For instance, there is a practice, especially in borderline communities, where birth certificates of deceased children are sold to foreign nationals. This happens when the death of a child is not reported to the DHA.”

“The DHA aims to deal with this fraud by capturing children’s biometrics when their births are registered to reliably verify their identities during subsequent interactions with the department and other institutions. However, not all biometric traits captured from children shortly after birth can be used to verify their identities later in life.”

The DHA has not supplied statistics or figures on how prevalent this is.

The DHA also notes that current policy does not reflect the existence of intersex, transgender or gender non-binary people.

To correct flaws in the system, the DHA has proposed the following options:

– The new legislation and NIS must enable the registration of births for intersex children.

– The identity number of a child must be processed on the basis of biographic information and linked to their parents’ identity numbers and mother’s biometric data.

– When possible, the biometrics of a child must be collected at birth. A facial photograph must be taken for manual identification when needed. Children must be reregistered when they reach age five with ten fingerprints and iris and facial photographs.

– A combination of different biometric data for children should be considered with options such as the photograph of the ear. This depends on the availability of proven technology.

The new legislation and population register must make a provision that enables the establishment of a category that is neither male nor female. That is, a sex category that caters for biological males with feminine gender identity or expression or biological females with masculine gender identity or expression in the identity system.

– The sex category must cater for transgender that will enable updates of sex information in the population register.

– The other option is to issue a random unique identity number that is not linked to or founded on a person’s sex, date of birth, place of birth or any other marker.

The DHA also proposed that the legal age to apply for an ID card be dropped from 16 to 10.

“The legal age at which a person can apply for an identity documentation is 16 years. This is a serious risk since a person’s biometrics are only collected when they apply for an ID. This situation has been exploited by criminals who steal the birth certificates or use minors as accomplice in criminal activities,” they explain.

Read the gazette here: 44048_31-12_NationalGovernment

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