How a Legal Identity Leads to a Better Life

Too many people around the world are prevented from accessing legal and social protections because they lack a secure legal identity. From Kenya and the Dominican Republic to Macedonia and Nepal, insecure legal identity predicts and sustains social, economic, and political exclusion. Without the primary documentation needed for legal identification, basic rights and services like social allowances, health care, school enrollment, the right to vote, bank accounts, mobile phones, and the ability to move within and outside countries is often restricted or out of reach.

For these reasons, the right to a legal identity is fundamental to inclusive development. Identity documents serve as the very basis of social inclusion. It is thus essential for legal identity to be incorporated into the post-2015 development framework.

The lack of access to a legal identity is by no means confined to Dalits. It is a right denied to many. This story is illustrative of how governments, the international community, and local civil society organizations all over the world can work hand-in-hand to secure real change. A lack of legal identity hinders the ability of women and marginalized groups to exercise their civil and political rights and secure socio-economic benefits from the state. Administrative hurdles, poverty, limited awareness, and discriminatory legal provisions bar women and vulnerable groups everywhere from securing their citizenship or registering their marriage or child's birth.

A survey conducted by Nepal’s National Dalit Commission reports that 35 percent of the Dalit community does not have citizenship certificates. Realizing the need and importance of legal identity documentation, the government of Nepal and several civil society organizations have collaborated to expand access to legal identity documents. The government has supported legislative reform, mobile camps, and public awareness campaigns. And several civil society groups provide valuable complementary activities including outreach, monitoring, and assistance with navigating state programs. 

Beginning in 2011, the Dalit NGO Federation (DNF) mobilized and trained 35 community facilitators in five districts. These facilitators educate community members, help them obtain their documents, and collaborate with government officials to deliver stronger services at the community level. From 2011 to 2014, DNF facilitators were able to help over 40,000 Nepalese obtain citizenship certificates, add 20,000 citizens to the voter rolls, and extend state services greatly.

The Lawyers’ National Campaign for Elimination of Caste Discrimination (LANCAU) is another powerful example of civil society partnership. LANCAU has been working in the eight districts of the Far Western Region, one of the most under-developed regions of Nepal. Using community-based paralegals, the organization empowers local community members to combat caste-based discrimination and secure state services. It also broadens access to justice by providing legal information, helping victims approach justice and state institutions, and engaging government to secure legal identity documents. This direct support is complemented by systemic advocacy efforts with the government, as well as work to change public attitudes through more sensitive reporting by journalists.  

The Legal Aid and Consultancy Center (LACC) in Nepal, a national-level civil society organization working on legal empowerment and justice reform, is also supporting innovative models to help people secure identity documents. Their model focuses on making people aware of the importance of identity documentation in Nepali society and works to empower people to attain their identity cards and associated entitlements. Sixty LACC-supported community paralegals join hands with government service providers to increase legal identity services and act as watchdogs and advocates.

Where collaboration falls short, LACC uses public interest litigation to challenge discriminatory provisions of citizenship. In conjunction with these efforts, LACC is advocating for government recognition of paralegals in Nepal’s legal system. The group has a strong system of documentation, and their experiences demonstrate that community paralegals play an important role in meaningfully securing identity for marginalized groups.

If the post-2015 development framework is to succeed in helping states reach the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, it must ensure that such communities can make the law work for them. Integrating strategies to secure and expand legal identity represents a major opportunity. As the experience of Nepal demonstrates, governments, civil society organizations, and communities themselves all have a significant role to play.  

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Five years ago while working with mothers and fathers in a township in India to help register their children for school I was told that children who had no birth certificates could not register. Many people came from places afar and could not get back to the villages to find a birth record if their was one....that law has now changed.

This is a wonderful and refreshing initiative. Thank you for working on behalf of those who are otherwise left vulnerable!

Legal Identity could be the easiest to start and looks like it gives immediate results but think about years ahead. Dalits, who are able to open bank but nothing to deposit, Dalits, who are able to go to school but can't afford it, sick dalits, who are able to get themselves admitted to hospital but no money. Yes, this legal identity project gives little hope but not the solution. I guess there should be more projects on educating people outside Dalits how they are wrong for centuries on treating Dalits unfairly.

Thanks Sunil. In this work, legal identity is seen as a first step - it's not much use if it doesn't change anything. But without legal identity, it can be impossible to claim even the most basic government services.

Not only legal identity they all need. I think this problem should be solved more globally, in this case by spreading free education for people in that region without any discriminate by sex, age or race. After getting educated they will understand how it is important to obtain legal idetity, what rights and opportunities this document guarantees you.

Thanks, Nurzan, for commenting. The problems is that you often need to have proof of identity of some kind to go to school. So you might ask how do you find out you need a legal identity? Often through the work of grassroots groups, sometimes using community-based paralegals, who are members of the community with basic legal training which helps them explain to others, and help them through the bureaucratic processes needed to acquire the right documentation, and to get access to services. Jonathan Birchall, Communications officer, Open Society Foundations.

It's a challenge, develop means to make the lives of the people better.
As more people live upon the Earth demands innovation, technology, engagement among other forces to provide and supply more, of more, to more.

Legal identity has became a must in todays world, therefore initiatives should be taken seriously by the government to educate its citizen through medias and others means not only by NGO's and INGO's

I don't know this is exact platform or not ,my query is about legal identity for disable than service and support for disable child and adult.Especial for children to prevent disability or survival support in nepal .

Unless one fights against the government and gets their rights enshrined in the constitution- the help and support we provide to the Dalits is only for short term. Let this foundation be chaired by a Dalit so that we begin revolution on empowerment and justice right from here. Are you ready? Its corruption everywhere in the name of Foundations and support!

Government of nepal must give thanks to such a great projects organiger.

Happy to learn about other initiatives working on the same issue in different regions of the world. Since 2010 at Microjusticia Argentina we have been implementing a very successful model by partnering with law firms and law schools and microfinance organisations in the slums to coordinate and train volunteers that offer free legal advice in the most disenfranchised slums of Buenos Aires. According to Observatorio de la Deuda Social Argentina de la UCA y el IADEPP there are at least 168.000 minors in Argentina born in the slums without birth certificates or legal identity. If you are interested in cross border aspects of this topic, please let me know.

such initiatives should be accompanied by improved livelihoods in order to engage the target groups.When the outcomes are tangible target groups will be motivated,and with good management the initiative will take a life of its own,as support is only an initial impetus.This will render the works of NGO efficient and effective.

need legal identity

Yes, still there are so many things Nepal has to do.

It's no trick loving somebody at their best. Love is loving them at their worst. and I'm proud that you guys are loving them!! wanna be a part!!!

It's no trick loving someone at their best. Love is loving someone at their worst. I'm proud that you guys are loving them..... wanna be a part of it!!!


Have you heard of It's a device that was developed to deliver personalised aid, based on fingerprints. It seems it could be a way to overcome the problem of having "papers" but would of course, have to overcome trust issues of the people who have access to the database.

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