Agony of youths who can't get IDs

A group of youths display their disfigured fingerprints at Maili Saba quarry in Bahati, Nakuru. More than 40 youths working at the quarry have no Identification Cards. [Photo: Kipsang Joseph/Standard]
Moses Maina is distraught. Though he is in his early 30s, he does not have a national Identity Card.

It’s not that Maina does not want to register as a Kenyan citizen. No. He is among a group of youths who work at a quarry in Bahati, Nakuru County, whose fingerprints have been disfigured as a result of the manual work.

For the past 12 years since he turned 18, Maina has made several visits to the district headquarters in Bahati constituency hoping to be registered as a citizen, but all in vain.

He says registration officials have been telling him that his fingerprints cannot be captured by the biometric machine to authenticate his unique identity. For five times now, his fingerprints cannot be entered in the biometric data, making it impossible for him to get an ID.

“They have tried every finger and thumb, but I don’t know why that machine does not accept any of them. I have done everything that the officers have told me to: scrubbed my hands with soap and water, even applied mustard oil,” says a tearful Maina.

The officials have taken his fingerprints several times and forwarded them to Nairobi for verification and registration but whenever he goes back to collect the ID, he’s told that he has no fingerprints.

Maina’s biggest problem is his fingerprints. His hands are calloused. Touch his fingers and you can feel the cuts, the hardened skin, which is the result of the tough work he is engaged in: breaking stones and loading them in a lorry at a local quarry, where he has worked since he dropped out of school.

“The first time they took my fingerprints some years back and gave me a waiting card, I was told to come back after three months. Months turned to years and still, I have no ID,” he told The Standard when we met him at the Maili Sita quarry.

Job opportunities

Maina says lack of an ID card has subjected him to many challenges including harassment by security personnel; he cannot get any other job or register as mobile phone subscriber and worse, he cannot take a voters’ card.

“My life is at a standstill as we speak. I am ageing and cannot even open a bank account to save the money I earn from the quarry business,” he says.

Maina, who dropped out of school in Form Four, says he has lost numerous employment opportunities due to lack of the ID card. “I go a job at a hotel in Maasai Mara but could not even think of travelling that far because I have no ID card,” he says.

But officers from the Directorate of Immigration and Registration of Persons say all is not lost for the group of quarry workers experiencing problems with their fingerprints.

Wilson Nyakeri, a registration officer from the region, says the youth can stop work for sometime to allow natural healing of the scares on their fingerprints before applying for the documents afresh.

“We have been advising them to stop work for sometimes then come back to apply for the IDs,” he says

However, Maina, a father of one, says it would be difficult for him to leave his work for months because he has his family that depends on him.

Samuel Kariuki, who turned 18 last year is also in a dilemma. He went to apply for his ID at the Bahati District headquarters but was shocked when he was turned away, simply because he had no fingerprints.

Kariuki says the person taking his fingerprints informed him that his finger tips were too ‘smooth’, thus could not be captured.

“He asked me what I did for a living and I informed him that I do manual work at the quarry.The officer advised me not to for work for one year so that my fingerprints can heal,” he says.

Maina and Kariku are not the only ones experiencing the challenge. At least 40 other cases have come to light in Bahati alone. Most of those affected are casual labourers in stone quarries.

Government officials from the National Registration Bureau admit there are numerous cases of people who have lost their fingerprints, especially those working in stone quarry and constructions sites.

Any solution?

“We have experienced cases where people who work in the stone quarries have lost fingerprints. Working in such environments can cause swelling, smoothing, peeling off of fingertips and loss of fingerprints,” says Nyakeri. He says disfigured fingerprints cannot be captured.

He says fingerprints are considered to be an infallible means of identification. “No two fingerprints are exactly alike. However, since fingerprints are extremely valuable, they are also an extremely fragile pieces of identification.  In such a situation we advise the applicant (s) to go and wait for the prints to grow so that we can have a pattern,” he says.

But the officers says all is not lost for the affected youths because the Government would always allow them to register when the fingerprints are in order.

He says fingerprints became an important identification of criminals in criminal investigations.

Smith Muturi, an official at the quarry in Bahati says he approached Kimani Ngunjiri, the local MP for assistance after he realised that a number of people working there were facing fingerprints challenges.

“We tried approaching our local chief for assistance but he said there was nothing much he could do since the matter was complex,” he says.

But he says he has taken up the matter with higher authorites, noting the problem is also in other parts of the country, where people have been denied ID cards because of losing fingerprints.

“I will write to the Directorate of Immigration and Registration of Persons to try and see how people with deformities on their fingers can get IDs,” he says.

He says there is a big risk when youths who have attained the age of 18 cannot obtain the IDs.

“We need to find another way of capturing them instead of just turning them away,” he says.

He says apart from failing to register as voters and being harassed by policemen, the youths without ID cards miss out on important opportunities like employment and fail to take advantage of Government initiatives like the youth and women enterprise fund.

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