In a meeting last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed his top officials to ensure full enrollment of children below six years under Aadhaar and use its on-line system to track children from birth. Modi's idea, according to senior government officials, was on the lines of Social Security Number (SSN) given to the children at the time of birth in the US.
The SSN helps in opening a bank account, obtaining medical coverage and applying government services for the child. The SSN is applied at the time of birth registration of the child.
Modi's idea was to concurrently give Aadhaar and birth certificate. Following Modi's directions, a meeting was convened between the officials of the erstwhile Planning Commission, now Niti Aayog, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the National Population Registrar (NPR), and other ministries.
In the meeting, it was decided to run a pilot project before launching a full-scale scheme for birth registration and simultaneously capture biometric details of around 20 million children born every year in the country. Till now, the Aadhaar is only given to children aged above six years.
"The pilot project was launched on February 23 at Tigaon primary health centre in Faridabad because of its proximity to the capital," says a high-ranking government official, requesting anonymity.
The results at the camp, however, were disappointing. The mothers had to hold their newborns in upright position till the computer captured the acceptable image. The officials found that it was causing hardship to both children and their mothers. Then there was another problem. The infant in the photographs lacked distinguishing features. "They all look the same, so their pictures made no sense," the official added.
In another meeting held at the Niti Aayog on March 16, it was decided that the current approach to provide Aadhaar to children below six years was not feasible and causing distress to people. The meeting was attended by officials from the UIDAI, NPR, ministry of women and child development, ministry of health and the ministry of human resource development.
"On simplifying Aadhaar enrollment of children, it was suggested that the requirement of photo of the children serves little purpose and causes considerable hardship and should be dispensed with… UIDAI shall seriously explore the option of exempting child's photograph and relaxing requirements of name for enrolling children below five years," said the minutes of the meetings reviewed by Business Standard.
The name and picture are a must for the generation of an Aadhaar. However, in India, most of the children are not named soon after their birth. Currently, the officials are considering linking the birth registration number to the biometrics details of the parents. "The possibility of using birth registration number, which is also unique, to register children in Aadhaar needs to be explored. Biometric details of children on attaining six years can be captured," the minutes noted.
The government is also planning to build linkages between Civil Registration System (CRS) and NPR so that an updated register of births, residents is available for use of all service departments. CRS is system for registering birth and death where as NPR has rest of the details on an individual.
"Recalling the directive of the Prime Minister to ensure full enrolment under Aadhaar and to use Aadhaar-based online system to track children from birth, it was suggested that CRS ought to capture all required details on children. Hence, the responsibility for enrolment in Aadhaar at the time of birth registration should lie in a single authority, which is the Registrar of Births, who should be suitably empowered to fulfil the role," the minutes read.