A complicated legal system with dead ends and incomplete legislation does not result in an easy life for anyone in Pakistan. But for the thousands of abandoned, homeless and orphaned Pakistani children, our legal system is particularly perilous. As discussed recently at the meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice, such children are left to be exploited by various predators as they are offered little legal protection under the current system. The Committee had met to discuss the Unattended Orphans (Rehabilitation and Welfare) Bill 2013 and it was unanimously agreed that comprehensive legislation followed by concrete action is necessary to ensure a safe future for abandoned children, many of whom are undocumented and may easily fall prey to human traffickers. The Committee also discussed the adoption system, which if managed properly can provide a protective and nurturing environment for children.
Unfortunately, the current adoption process in Pakistan is far from simple. Adoptive parents are only recognised as legal guardians and not as parents, which raises complications when obtaining identification papers from NADRA. This becomes even more complicated in cases where the identity of biological parents is unknown. The rights of adopted children have also not been clearly defined by law and the only current legislation that exists on the matter of adoption is the Guardians and Wards Act of 1980. The adopted child has no legal right to inherit property and whatever financial security is provided is heavily dependent on the discretion and of foresight of adoptive parents. Processes are lengthy and information scant, leaving several prospective parents to resort to illegal methods or informal arrangements of adoption. Additionally, due to social taboos, a premium is often placed on blood relations and adoptive children are looked down upon. Parents often have to resort to subterfuge to present adoptees as their biological children to avoid discrimination in matters of inheritance and marriage prospects. The enactment of a legislation to safeguard the rights of abandoned or orphaned children and which also provides clear guidelines on adoption could clear the way to increasing the acceptability of this practice in society.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2016.
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