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What’s in a surname?

Although a policy to register orphans with Nadra has been in place since May 2014, its implementation is tiresomely slow

What’s in a surname?
— Photo by Ahmed Mushtaq.

Omer Akhtar worked as a waiter in one of Lahore’s top hotels till 2003 when he was asked to leave the job — because he was not registered with Nadra.

“They asked me to leave the job if I couldn’t bring my Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC),” says Akhtar because “I was an orphan, I had no B-Form, I couldn’t get my ID card.”

Having come out of SOS Children’s Village, “It seemed impossible for me to do something practical in life,” he maintains.

It was mandatory for all applicants to enter the father’s name in the registration form issued by National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) till before May 2014. As a result, orphans in the country could not be registered and issued a CNIC.

However, in a rather welcome gesture in May 2014, the Supreme Court directed that the head of an orphanage where such a child lives is eligible to become the child’s legal guardian by providing an affidavit. This replaces the old practice of going to the relevant court to seek guardianship certificates for every orphaned or abandoned child.

Thousands of orphans in Pakistan are still waiting for the implementation of the policy of Nadra to issue registration certificate to officially become citizens of Pakistan and avail all citizenship rights.

“With the new policy, most of the hurdles to the registration of abandoned children have been tackled but its implementation is yet to be seen in practical terms. It has been more than two months now and no Nadra team has visited the SOS Village to register such children,” says Almas Butt, director of SOS Children’s Village, Pakistan.

A senior official of Nadra says the issue of registration of orphans was pending since 2005 due to lack of clear guidance on registration of children of unknown parentage, both from religious (Islamic) and administrative point of view. “Nadra also sought fatwas from Iran and Saudi Arabia in order to get Islamic view and formulated a policy for registration of orphans,” he adds.

Before the issuance of this policy, a child could only be legally adopted if a guardian court issued a decree to the person claiming guardianship under the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890. Without a court decree, no one could claim to be the legal guardian of a parentless or orphaned child.

The matter was in the court since 2011 when, through a letter, Edhi Foundation complained that Nadra was not issuing B-Form to children whose parentage was unknown or those who had been abandoned by their parents and were now living in Edhi shelters.

An old lady wants to transfer some property to an orphan in the SOS Children’s Village but she is unable to do so for the past four years because the child does not have a Nadra registration certificate.

Three years ago, the village received a four-year-old girl who was hurt in a drone strike. She was brought to Lahore through the Peshawar chapter of the organisation. The organisation organised her treatment in America but it took several months to get her certification.

“It is a denial of fundamental rights. We have been struggling for it for the past nine years,” says Almas Butt. She adds the laws became strict when the war on terror intensified and created problems in Pakistan. “Before that, we were managing to register children with Nadra and managed their B-Form mentioning Surayya Anwar, president of SOS Village, as guardian of hundreds of children in the past several years. But after 2005, Nadra even started cancelling previous registrations.”

The challenges due to this restriction are serious, she says. “Orphans or children without parentage cannot appear in grade eight and above exams without B-Form, they cannot operate a bank account, they cannot get a proper job, they do not have a right to vote because they will not be able to get CNIC without prior registration, they cannot get property transferred to their name…”

Under section 9(1) of the Nadra Ordinance 2000, the authority is bound to register every citizen of Pakistan, inside or outside the country, who has attained the age of 18 years. A parent or a guardian must also register the birth of a child not later than one month after the birth.

The new policy also reads that in case a child’s parentage is unknown, whatever name was recorded by the orphanage in its records would be registered with Nadra. The orphanage would be responsible for providing these details and could assign any name to the child’s parents, as long as it wasn’t a generic or placeholder name, such as Edhi.

Nadra also told the court that it would introduce a “Smart Card for Children”, especially for orphan/abandoned children, free of cost. Necessary amendments to the rules have already been made. The Smart Card will not only facilitate identity of such children but will also help them in other transactions.

“It took years to realise this issue. It took four years for the court to settle down the issue and now many weeks have passed, still the policy needs implementation,” Omer Akhtar laments.

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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