In 1969, ICAO recommended that States not require separate passports for children under 16 years of age entering their territories when accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, provided that the children’s’ particulars were recorded in the passport of the accompanying adult.

This, and other new provisions, were included in Annex 9 — Facilitation to the Chicago Convention in order to encourage Contracting States to simplify and expedite the formalities connected with the issue and renewal of passports and to reduce documentary requirements for departure and entry. The aim was to prepare, in advance, the facilitation of large volumes of air passenger traffic expected in the years to come.

By-and-by, the inclusion of children and spouses in the passport of the “primary” holder became widespread practice, and thus “family passports” came into vogue.

With the exponential increase in the numbers of air travelers over the years, this practice proved counterproductive. It did not support the intended goal of facilitation of the clearance of families. To the contrary, it created more inconvenience for the traveler, especially the dependent person(s), and confusion for border authorities.

By the late 1980s, in light of the prospects offered by technological developments in accelerating the flow of passengers through airports, ICAO considered that States should take these into account when issuing passports. The Organization thus recommended that States refrain from issuing a joint passport to two spouses and that States should endeavor, within a reasonable period of time, to issue passports to children under the age of 16.

Although “family passports” contradicted these latest proposals, the earlier recommendation that receiving States accept the inclusion of children in their parents’ passports was not deleted from Annex 9 because ICAO concluded that it would be premature to do so. One reason was that machine readable travel document (MRTD) technology had not gained widespread acceptance by States. Another was that States should be allowed sufficient time to move from “family passports” to issuing separate passports for all family members.

At the same time, ICAO recognized the importance of the development of machine readable passports and visas as a crucial step forward in facilitating the clearance of passengers. It therefore recommended that States should:

  1. issue machine readable passports and visas in the layout set forth in ICAO Doc 9303; and
  2. standardize the personal identification data included in their passports to conform with the items and presentation recommended in Doc 9303.

Movement towards the “One Passport, One Person” Concept

In the early 1990s, an increasing number of States began to issue machine readable passports (MRPs), in accordance with the technical specifications of Doc 9303. This standardized the contents and formats of passports internationally.

The time had come to re-examine whether ICAO should continue recommending the acceptance of “family passports”.

First, ICAO promoted the concept of individual passports for spouses. One main reason was that the concept of single identity passports was compatible with Doc 9303 specifications. It therefore upgraded its previous recommendation and, in 1997, made it a requirement for States to refrain from issuing a joint passport to two spouses.

Second, ICAO decided to find out whether the procedures for including children and dependents in passports could be standardized. These procedures differed widely. Some countries included the spouse and children in the passport of the primary holder, some only the children, some included the photographs and biographical data of the dependents, others did not. There was no uniformity concerning the age limits for the inclusion of children in the passport, nor was there a standard methodology for the insertion of data in a secure manner.

ICAO conducted a survey of Contracting States to gather data on these issues. As a result of the information reported by 87 States, ICAO concluded that because of the variety of existing State practice with regard to the procedures to include minor children in adults’ passports, it was highly unlikely that standardization would readily be achieved.

A number of States, in responding to the survey, asserted that their national legislation already required separate passports for everyone and cited various arguments to support their position. It became clear that the objective of a standardized format for family passports was not commensurate with the effort which would be required to achieve it. During the study it also became increasingly clear that the family passport, whether standard or not, was inconsistent with the objectives of the machine readable travel documents programme, in particular to present machine verifiable identification data for each and every traveler. The standard format specified for machine readable passports contemplates only one person per document.

Moreover, the results of the survey clarified that while many States’ existing legislation allowed the inclusion of dependents in passports, all States reported that their legislation permitted the issuance of a separate passport to a child of any age upon request.

In March 2002, therefore, the ICAO Council adopted the new Annex 9 Standard which requires States to issue a separate passport to each person, regardless of age. At the same time ICAO deleted:

  1. the recommendation that States should not require separate passports for children under 16 years of age entering their territories when accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, if the children were included in the accompanying adult’s passport; and
  2. the requirement to refrain from issuing a joint passport to two spouses (a provision made redundant by the adoption of the new Standard). These changes became effective with the eleventh edition of Annex 9, on 15 July 2002.

Other Factors Supporting the “One Passport, One Person” Policy

Benefits of Machine Readable Passports. ICAO Doc 9303, Part 1 — Machine Readable Passports emphasizes that the issue of machine readable passports provides security advantages and assists passport holders in their clearance formalities. In order to benefit fully from the advantages of the machine readability of passports, it is desirable for each individual to have a separate passport.

Child trafficking/abduction. In child custody disputes the “one passport, one person” practice would make it easier to identify whether or not the child held valid passport facilities. It could prevent the abduction of children and unauthorized entry of children into a territory. It has also been asserted that, at times, photographs of children are not attached securely to passports. This deficiency allows for possible switching of portraits in aid of child trafficking.

Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 1998, the ICAO Assembly adopted Resolution A32-18, “International cooperation in protecting the security and integrity of passports”. The Assembly noted that high level cooperation among States is required in order to strengthen resistance to passport fraud, including “the misuse of authentic passports by rightful holders in furtherance of the commission of an offense”. The abduction of children is clearly one such offense. Under Article 11 of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, States are obliged to take measures to combat the illicit transfer of children abroad.

In 1994, a (U.K.) report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child recommended: “Family passports need to be discontinued. Every child should have a passport in his or her own right. The lack of individual documents makes international child abduction much easier.”

Undocumented children. It is not in a child’s best interest to be included in the parent’s passport. If, on international travel, the parent has to continue the trip alone, this will render the child undocumented. This could also occur to a spouse when he/she is included on another person’s passport. Moreover, a child included in a parent’s passport cannot travel except with that parent.

Nationality and identity rights of a child. Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that a child shall have the right from birth to acquire a nationality. Under Article 8, States undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity and nationality. Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality. It has long been recognized in municipal law and international law that the passport is a travel document issued by the “competent authority showing the bearer’s origin, identity and nationality.” It is likely, therefore, that a child who does not possess his/her own travel document might be deprived of these rights.

Biometrics in passports. ICAO Doc 9303 specifications now provide for the optional inclusion of an encoded biometric to confirm the holder’s identity, or other data to verify the document’s authenticity. This makes possible an unprecedented level of document security, offering border control authorities a high level of confidence in the validity of travel documents. A biometric in a machine readable passport will only be able to contain information of the passport holder, and no other additional person.

Other arguments. Each person having his/her own machine readable passport also enhances facilitation (reduction of manual data entry) and facilitates unambiguous identification of persons traveling on a passport. The “one passport, one person” concept is compatible with machine-readable passport technology whereas the practice of including dependents in the passport of the primary holder is not. An alternative solution, to provide a machine- and eye-readable data page for each included dependent, would be pointless, since the data page represents most of the passport’s production cost.

Finally, ICAO has recommended in Annex 9 that if any fee is charged for the issue or renewal of a passport, the amount of such fee should not exceed the cost of the operation. Implementation of this recommendation should make it less expensive for a family with many children to get passports for all. In addition, States could also introduce a lower fee structure for children’s’ passports, in order to mitigate the cost to families, as children’s’ passports are generally issued for a shorter duration, due to the faster changing appearance of a child.

The days of husband & wife passports, …with children or even group passports are long over. Therefore such kind of travel documents are a special field when it comes to passport collecting. I do have a group passport which is truly outstanding as it is a passport booklet for 68 people and it bears more than 50 passport pictures! a real treasure!

group passport