An entire segment of the people born in Pakistan are never recognised as its citizens — because they were not registered at birth.
Mehtab, found abandoned as a newborn baby outside a charity organisation’s office in Karachi some 20 years ago, has never had a computerised national identity card. And it seems he may never have one because he is unaware of the identities of his parents or his place of birth, which are essential requirements for a CNIC.
Plump, light-bearded Mehtab, who is speech and hearing impaired, was found in an Edhi Jhoola and was given a name by the Sohrab Goth centre — the only home he has ever known.
Abandoned persons like him are known only by first names and are condemned to a life without an ‘identity’.
“Without CNICs, they cannot work anywhere,” says Amanullah, who takes care of the centre where Mehtab lives. “When they become adults and want to leave the shelter home, they can’t. Outside, they won’t get a proper job or be able to earn a decent living.”
Edhi officials estimate that their centres in Karachi alone house between 800 and 900 unregistered children and adults. They say they have requested the government to at least allow these children to have B-forms made but even for that, the identity of parents is required and so the efforts were in vain. Those living in the shelter home are aware that they may never get a shot at life in the ‘real world’.
Ajmal says he knows he has nowhere to go and has thus contented himself with working for the centre’s bakery. Although he was six when he was left to fend for himself, he says he has no idea about his family or why they decided to ‘dump’ him.
Although it has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which binds states to assimilate these children as citizens, Pakistan has failed to implement it, says Rana Asif, a child rights worker.
“Civil society members have met Interior Minister Rehman Malik to discuss problems with recognising those who have not yet been registered. But nothing has yet been done about the issue,” Asif told The Express Tribune, adding that he is hopeful that something concrete will come out of it.
But until then, even as the country marks Universal Children’s Day which is meant as a reminder for states to protect their children, nameless and faceless people like Ajmal and Mehtab continue to live on the fringe.
Although he’s resigned to his life as it is, Mehtab uses his hands and facial expressions to communicate that what he really wants is to go home.
Ajmal, however, does not wonder much about his family. “This is the life which was given to me by my parents. I will continue to live here and spend it making bread,” he says, with a shy smile.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2011.