Biometrics to Help Fight against Poverty in Africa

There’s growing trend of deploying biometrics to distribute stipends or pension to the elderly in Africa in recent years. This is African government efforts to build an effective identification scheme in order to fight poverty in the region.

iris scan pension Africa

Source: hiveminer

According to the Centre for Global Development (CGD), the absence of proper identification tools inhibits citizens’ access to basic rights and services. For the elderly, access to pensions can make a big difference in mitigating their vulnerability to poverty. Globally, the number of people having access to pensions is just around 25%. In Africa, the number of persons aged 60 and above have access to any form of pension is even less than 20%, according to World Bank 2010.

With traditional paper-based pension regime, pensioners were required to present themselves before an officer for vetting to access services. With the majority of pensioners living far from towns, the process requires great exertion. Not to mention that, keeping these member records accurate and up to date is challenging, particularly in African countries with large migrant populations who are lack of official identity documentation. Meanwhile, cost reduction and good record keeping are at the core of providing better services and eliminating the opportunities for corrupt behavior. Biometric technology is tackling these problems by offering a streamline process with lower cost and better record-keeping.

A biometric pension system not only produces a lean, reliable registration with no duplication, it also keeps pensioners’ profile electronically which is easy to keep track of and update when needed. In case the pensioners are sick or unable to come to the offices for pension registration and verification, a mobile biometric registration kit will be used to reach as many pensioners as possible. And with the biometric-linked payment system, the welfare transfer will be made far more transparent and efficient. It’s reported that some families in Zimbabwe continued benefiting even after the death of the pensioner. Sierra Leone NASSIT Chief also affirmed that “the operationalization of the Biometric Registration System will drastically minimize the monetary loss caused by identity fraud during pensions and benefits payment. This zero pension fraud system will save the Government hundreds of millions of Leones.”

Many African governments are using or considering biometrics as a means of identifying pensioners. For example, South Africa has been using biometric identification and electronic transfers and ATMs to distribute pensions and social grants for over 20 years and keep upgrading with new technologies. In Nigeria, the introducing of biometrics into the federal pension system eliminated nearly 40% of the beneficiary roll. This not only increases efficiency and accountability, but has the potential to improve services, according to the Guardian. Following those successes are Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, to implement biometrics for their pension management in particular and social welfare transfer in general.

Fingerprint is still the most common form of biometric verification, however, governments are now opting for multimodal biometrics that includes iris scan and face recognition in order to provide more inclusive and accurate pension system. It’s true that biometric technology is already helping to deliver more effective social security scheme that reduces costs, eliminates fraud throughout Africa and beyond.