Recognising life events
Express Tribune, Aug 9, 2021
On 27 July 2021, a six year old girl was kidnapped, raped, killed and dumped in a ‘Katchra Kundi’ in Zaman Town Korangi. This was yet another repeat of many such frequently occurring tragedies that seem to have become an integral routine of our collective lives. There is however little evidence to suggest that we have accomplished anything beyond mere jargon-laden emotional outbursts to curb this evil. A subject that reflects the darkest and most barbaric aspect of our society sans solutions. The least we could do was to break down the big issue into small pieces and follow the ‘bite by bite’ approach to cause a change.
While the tragic incident of the six year old Korangi girl was discussed for days in the press and social media, no one highlighted the fact that no such girl ever existed in any official records of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Her birth was never reported to the Union Council. She did not have a NADRA issued birth certificate. She neither had a Child Registration Certificate (CRC or Form B) nor was listed on any Family Registration Certificate (FRC). For six long years, she was denied the right of being, the right of identity and the rights of a child. Sadly Pakistan has some sixty million such nameless children, who are alive and kicking but do not exist in any official record. There is thus no mechanism to monitor their vaccinations, schooling, child labour, traceability and early child marriage.
Parents today have a choice to register, delay for many years or never register the birth of a child. The state should by-pass this option and establish direct links with hospitals / maternity homes and midwives, who could be registered, given unique identity numbers and legally bound to send an SMS to a NADRA specified number soon after the birth of a child. The SMS could simply state basic information such as unique ID of the hospital or the midwife, CNIC and name of father / mother, gender, name of the child and date and time of birth. NADRA could immediately and automatically plug this information into various other records such as Birth Certificate, CRC and FRC. All these should be downloadable after making the required payment and without making any other application, submitting any other Forms /affidavits or visiting any office.
The state has opted to remain equally ignorant on knowing about deaths. More than 50 percent of all those who die are either never formally reported, or reported dead many years later. Besides creating a loss of Rs. 30 to 40 billion per year in terms of ghost pensions, this missing information leads to numerous down-stream problems such as misuse of SIM and CNIC card of the deceased. This could again be easily prevented by mandatory mechanisms that ensure this information is directly made available to NADRA.
Each hospital and graveyard across the country could be registered, given a unique ID and made legally bound to inform NADRA whenever an individual dies in a hospital or is buried in a graveyard. The SMS could have the basic information such as ID of the hospital / graveyard, name and CNIC of the deceased (who died in a hospital or was buried in a graveyard) and date and time of death / burial. This could enable NADRA to receive first-hand information on all deaths, and to initiate important downstream actions such as blocking pensions, SIMs, CNIC cards etc.
The first signs of care and concern by a state are reflected by its interest in knowing about its people – who, how many, where, employed or jobless, when born, living or dead. Today we are fortunate to have the technology that could by-pass our biggest hurdle. i.e. our colonial processes. Pakistan must save its citizens from unnecessary runarounds and meaningless affidavits by an independent mechanism that itself records all births and deaths.