ISLAMABAD: Aleem* is excited that he is going abroad on an official tour. The long hours he stood in a long queue at the passport office for the renewal of his passport seem worth it.
This educated man has yet not taken the birth registration of his two sons done at the union council office. His sons, aged one-year and two-and-half year, are not registered citizens of Pakistan.
While experts try and sensitise Pakistanis about the benefits and necessity of registering their children, the procedural difficulties make parents like Aleem delay this important step in a newborn’s life.
“Every day I plan to get their birth register but at the end of day I fail to take out time from my busy schedule. Actually the thought of the long procedure involved in getting them registered makes me lethargic,” said Aleem. “I got my daughter’s birth registered when she was denied admission to a school due to the absence of a birth certificate. Maybe I will end up doing the same with my other two kids,” he said.
His sons are among those 60 million Pakistani children, who due to a sheer lazy attitude or lack of awareness about the importance of birth registration among parents are deprived of their legal identity. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), every year 4.5 million births take place in Pakistan of which 3 million are not officially recorded. Which means these children have a name and an existence but currently do not have a legal identity or a nationality.
“Everyday five to ten parents come to this union council office to get their children registered but when we ask them for their computerized national identity cards (CNICs) or other documents, they never turn up,” said an official of the union council office in the rural suburbs of Islamabad.
In a recent and interesting initiative, in an effort to innovate access to birth registration in the country, Telenor Pakistan in collaboration with UNICEF, has planned to introduce a pilot project in Sindh and Punjab to get newborns an identity right from their birth.
The plan is that these intermediaries will be equipped with handheld devices and a custom application to digitalize the standard birth registration application form. The digital forms along with supporting digital documents will then be transferred to the respective UC along with the fee collected for onwards birth registration. The UC Secretary can then review applications, address any queries and process the registration. Once registered, the intermediaries will be issued Birth Registration Certificate (BRC) for their respective households for onward delivery.
“This project has tremendous implications for the right of every child in Pakistan as birth registration is an important instrument to realize children’s right to health, education and other services and protection against violence, abuse and exploitation,” said Dan Rohrmann, UNICEF Representative in Pakistan.
“International experience shows that innovations as well as usage of new technologies significantly facilitate access to basic social services and birth registration is the key to this effect,” he added.
(* Name changed)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2014.