Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, December 16
The Kerala Government has decided to track schoolchildren by issuing them Aadhaar cards much to the concern of rights activists who believe the move would jeopardise children’s privacy and subject them to needless discrimination.

The apex body monitoring child rights — National Commission for Protection of Child Rights — agrees with these fears and has put the state on notice over the issue asking it to explain “what measures it would be taking to safeguard children’s right to privacy and dignity in the use of Unique Identification (UID)”.

“We have not yet heard from the state,” Chairperson of the commission Shanta Sinha told The Tribune, disagreeing with the use of Aadhaar cards for schoolchildren.

The state, however, is clear about what it wants to do. In a circular detailing the issuance of Aadhaar cards to schoolchildren, the state government directed its Public Education Department to deploy online school management software called Sampoorna in schools across Kerala and to bring the same in line with UID.

Issued by Director, Public Education, Kerala, the circular states, “We have been tasked with providing Central Government’s UID to school students. Hence, schools should provide mechanisms to implement UID and Sampoorna in conjunction.

“Details of all the students in the school should be collected in the forms on the basis of their class and division. Headmasters should ensure that all students have filled in these forms. Education officers are directed to monitor these explicitly. Details of monetary compensation for teachers who conduct UID verification would be notified separately.”

The Aadhaar cards are sought to be issued to as many as 60 lakh students from Class I to XII spanning close to 15,000 schools in the state.

“When all schoolchildren have UIDs, their movements in educational institutions can be tracked so also their academic performance. The circular is coercive and violates the privacy of children,” said Usha Ramanathan, a Delhi-based lawyer who has complained to NCPCR against Kerala.

The concerns stem from the challenges of UID verification in case of children. Collecting and de-duplicating the biometrics of children is a challenge, admits Unique Identification Authority of India’s own “Working paper on UID and iris”.

“Children’s face and fingerprints are not stable until the age of 16 years. The lack of de-duplication of a child’s biometrics would require that a child’s UID be linked to the parents’ UID in the database and the child’s ID is not issued on the basis of de-duplication of his own biometrics. This increases the risk of fakes among UIDs for children,” Ramanathan told The Tribune.

Activists further argue that UIDs don’t have parliamentary mandate as the UID Bill has not been passed by the House. “There are no protocols about who can access UID information, how UID number may be used, what will happen if there is identity loss and theft. There is no protection against tracking and profiling,” the complaint to NCPCR says.

Experts say that iris presents a potential means to issue the majority of children a unique number linked to their biometrics because the iris stabilises at a very young age. “But the limitation on iris capture is the child’s inability to follow instructions to keep eyes open before the camera. Normally, children understand such instructions after the age of four. Moreover, what is the purpose in tracking kids?” Ramanathan said.