A three-day long conference on the future of Aadhaar wrapped up on Thursday with a crucial suggestion that biometrics of children be taken after they turn three-years-old, an idea that UIDAI CEO Saurabh Garg described as one of the major takeaways from the conference.

“The idea that came up was how to enroll children at a younger age. At the moment, we are taking biometrics of children at five years but a panel said why can’t you do it after three years? Fingerprints become more and less stable after three years, research shows,” Garg said at the conclusion of the conference.

An Aadhaar number is given to children at birth to up to five years of age, but the same is linked to their parents. Biometrics are taken only after the child turns five and have to be updated at age 15.

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It was Professor Anil K Jain from the Michigan State University who gave a presentation at the conference recommending that the minimum age of capturing biometrics should be reduced from five to three. He cited the alarming number of children who go missing in India, determining which child has been vaccinated and which child avails the government’s food programme, to make a case for a unique identity for children as early as age three.

Jain said he had asked UIDAI officials why the age of five was selected. “I was told by them that at this age the child understands the instructions – like where to stand for a photograph or how to hold an iris scanner. But we probably made a safer bet in setting the age,” he said. He added that 25 million children are born every year in India and hence “125 million children at any point of time do not have Aadhaar of their own” till they turn five.

Jain cited the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) standards for child development that cite that at the age of three (pre-school), a child can follow simple instructions and be understood. “So we can start enrolling children at age of three – like they can be told where to stand for face capture, how to hold the iris scanner and how to give fingerprints… and their biometrics can be captured using the existing Aadhaar enrolment ecosystem,” Jain recommended to the UIDAI.

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Jain is a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Michigan State University where he conducts research in pattern recognition, computer vision and biometrics. He has served on the National Academies Study on Biometrics.

UIDAI CEO Saurabh Garg said other major takeaways of the conference were for the body to become much more resident-centric and citizen-centric, and focus on the “first mile – the citizen”. He also said the consensus seemed to expand the use of Aadhaar. “We have been focusing on subsidies but the suggestion is how to open it out to private sector so they can make use of Aadhaar within overall framework set up by the Supreme Court and which will be set out by data protection privacy bill,” he said.

Garg also said that the voluntary use of Aadhaar by people can be encouraged. “If a resident is willing to use Aadhaar for some purpose, we need to enable it, because it is consent-based framework and it is voluntary use, and allowed by law,” he said.

The CEO also mentioned new technologies like face recognition, voice recognition and how fingerprints can be used on smart devices to authenticate Aadhaar.

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