SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Why it matters

SDG 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provision of access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

The industry contribution

Mobile technology contributes to SDG 16 by facilitating access to information and the right to free expression, while digital identity leverages mobile as a trusted and robust solution for the underserved. Together, these lead to greater social and economic inclusion and make individuals more visible to their governments. Governments, especially in countries with low ID penetration, are also making reforms and investments in their identity infrastructure a priority, including birth registration. There are ID systems using digital technologies in 161 countries. As of January 2020, 12% of countries (19 of 155) that implemented SIM registration allowed mobile network providers to verify customers’ identification credentials against an approved government database or credential to facilitate validation.

Helping institutions to increase efficiency and reduce fraud

Target 16.5: Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms.

Target 16.6: Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.

The poorest segments of society are often excluded from social cash transfer programmes because of challenges related to enrolling, identifying and communicating with beneficiaries. Digital tools facilitate the implementation of social protection systems and support social cash transfers. Digital registration of beneficiaries enables efficient verification, while targeted and transparent delivery of funds avoids corruption and reduces the time for aid delivery. In 2018, social cash transfer programmes accounted for over half of all social protection spending worldwide. Indirectly, such institutional systems also contribute to lowering poverty. Approximately 36% of households that received social cash transfers were able to avoid absolute poverty. In addition to digital registration, mobile money-enabled transactions also generate data trails which can facilitate oversight and supervision by authorities.

In Zambia, a new enrolment system synchronised more than 55 million data points, improved data collection and social cash transfer applications, and addressed logistical challenges such as payment delays. In 2019, it covered all 108 districts of Zambia and was used by 1,200 enumerators. Furthermore, the use of mobile to support data collection has translated into a strong government institution where decision-makers have real-time access to vital information and are able to reach more beneficiary households in a shorter amount of time.

Transparent transaction records are also vital to protect customers’ rights, foster trust, reduce the risk of fraud and theft, and improve social outcomes. Mobile money creates such records of financial history. For instance, in 2010, the Afghan National Police began to use M-Pesa instead of cash to pay salaries. During this process, they discovered that 10% of salaries were being paid to fictitious police officers, while some officers were not receiving their salaries in full.

Case Study

Ethiopia: reducing fraud and collection time for social cash transfer programmes 


In 2000, the poverty rate in Ethiopia was at 44% and in 2003, an estimated 15 million people in the country were food insecure. As a result, the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) was established in 2005 to address Ethopia’s poverty rate by reducing dependency on food aid and increasing rural-focused cash transfer programmes. However, the programme faced a number of challenges. First, payments were initially delivered to beneficiaries in the form of physical cash, which meant that they were prone to delays as a result of poor weather, poor roads and other difficulties associated with reaching rural beneficiaries. Second, physical cash was difficult to keep track of and, therefore, subject to fraud. And third, it was inconvenient and expensive for many beneficiaries to travel long distances to cash collection points.


In 2014, M-BIRR ran a successful pilot for the Tigray Social Cash Transfer Programme through the M-BIRR mobile money platform. This platform is used to make direct payments to beneficiaries electronically each month, and withdrawals can be made at the programme beneficiary’s convenience, without any time or date constraints, or associated fees.


As of January 2019, over 800,000 households received their PSNP payments electronically via M-BIRR, and this figure continues to grow. Replacing a handful of cash disbursement points with a large number of local M-BIRR branches and agents gave beneficiaries more flexibility to withdraw their money at a convenient time and place. Reporting and auditability also improved, as all electronic transactions were recorded and time-stamped in real time. The new service is also more secure and minimises the occurrence of theft. Due to the fact that M-BIRR’s mandatory KYC process has already been carried out for each household representative (a requirement for opening an account), the risk of fraud and ‘ghost households’ is drastically reduced.

Source: Digital identity and social cash transfers, GSMA, 2019

Reducing barriers to birth registration through mobile

Nearly 1 billion people worldwide lack official proof of identity, with one in two women in low-income countries affected. An average of 20% of children under five (166 million under-fives) remain unregistered at birth. As an official and permanent record of a child’s identity, birth certificates can bestow access to a number of services and a means to gain national identity documents later in life. Without an identity, individuals are often invisible and therefore unable to vote, access healthcare, open a bank account, receive education or get employment, and they also bear a higher risk for exploitation and trafficking. Without accurate population data, public and private organisations struggle to broadly and accurately deliver the most basic human services. Digital identity is therefore considered one of the foundational enablers that can facilitate access to essential services and aid.

In Tanzania and Ghana, mobile-enabled digital birth registration has led to more infants registered early or on time (within the first year), in some cases almost quadrupling registration rates (from 8.9% to 30.3% in Mbeya, Tanzania). In some regions in Ghana, more than 90% of births are now registered digitally. Similarly, in Pakistan, the number of registrations has seen almost three times as many children registered compared to traditional registration processes, which on average require three trips to a government office and processing time of two days, compared to the mobile-enabled registration process that allows parents to register births without leaving their community (and in some cases, without leaving their home) and can be completed in less than 10 minutes.

Case Study

Burkina Faso: token-based birth registration 


The government of Burkina Faso has made efforts to improve birth registration rates, resulting in approximately 77% of births being registered. However, this still leaves almost 2.3 million children under the age of 18 unregistered. Urban registration rates are typically higher than those in rural areas, at 93% and 74% respectively, indicating that efforts are still needed to reach full population coverage, particularly in remote locations. Additionally, births that take place at home or in rural villages are less likely to be registered than those in hospitals. One of the main barriers to registration includes the distances required to travel to administrative centres to complete the registration paperwork, and the fact that parents typically delay giving a name to newborn children due to religious practices (Muslim children are generally named on the seventh day following the birth).


iCivil, a mobile application, allows birth certificates to be recorded. The details of any newborn child can be sent by a coded SMS from the app to the server of the national centre of civil status. The simple design bypasses the typical delays associated with birth registration while also respecting legal requirements and being compatible with the existing national registration system. The app links the details of the baby to a unique and non-forgeable authenticator called Bubble Tag. The birth certificate can be obtained in the form of a bracelet (token).


Between August 2015 and July 2016, a pilot was run in the capital of Ouagadougou in 10 maternity wards and the main registry office. Over the course of the year, more than 2,600 newborns were registered through the iCivil solution, which represented a 30% increase in birth registration compared to previous years. Having demonstrated that the solution works, iCivil is now looking to launch the solution more broadly in different markets across Africa.

Source: Innovative mobile digital identity solutions, GSMA 2018; iCivil

Maximising impact by 2030

Enablers that could help maximise the mobile industry’s impact on SDG 16 include the following:

  • Lowering ID barriers to register SIM card users, especially vulnerable populations, and barriers to own a mobile phone (e.g. cost of handset, mobile services).
  • Relaxing SIM registration and KYC requirements to onboard users.
  • Implementing stronger and inclusive data protection and privacy laws that can provide an environment to reduce corruption, fraud and lack of transparency at government and private institution levels.