October 1st, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Women and children of seasonal migrant workers to big cities are being actively denied access to computerized national identity cards and birth certificates due to gender discrimination, according to findings of a study by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
The findings of the study on ‘Access to citizenship among itinerant workers in Karachi’ were revealed at a policy consultation on Thursday.
The study showed that women from migrant workers’ communities are often actively denied the right of citizenship because it is not considered important for them to possess CNICs. Children of unknown parentage are especially vulnerable: there is no provision for issuing them with birth registration certificates, leaving them at greater risk of violence, trafficking and induction into child labor.
Most itinerant workers surveyed also said they had been unable to access relief during the Covid-19 crisis, given their lack of citizenship documents. “Keeping women deprived of CNIC holds them back from accessing any services and asserting any rights. As migrations have happened to major cities, there is an increased awareness about the importance of having a CNIC, as the children’s documentation is linked to that of the mother,” the findings stated.
The findings noted that women with children, who do not have their husbands’ documents, cannot get their children’s child registration certificate. It is essential for registration of a minor to have not only the name but the documentation of the father available. There are cases of abandonment by the husbands of families, death without an identity card, cases of divorce and non-cooperation or unwillingness to facilitate. This results in children remaining without CRC and therefore deprived of all basic rights and services, the findings said.
The study found that majority of the respondents were unable to access relief due to lack of CNIC during the last year and a half of COVID, and those that were able to access relief did so through Non-Governmental Organizations and private sources. As far as government relief was concerned all respondents confirmed that they were unable to access it, despite economic and food challenges that they faced.
The findings stated that NADRA officials discriminated towards certain ethnic groups. In some cases, it was on the basis of mere speculation that this discrimination took place. This practice has led to the increased reliance on agents, for all processes at NADRA. It was observed that in cases such as these, respondents with existing CNICs, were put into IB verification or processes that are not a requirement for renewal were initiated creating further intimidation, fear and challenges, the study added.
Migrant and seasonal workers also faced language and comprehensions issues at NADRA offices. “The frontline worker at the desk at NADRA and the respondent are unable to communicate properly,” the findings said.
Due to the gap in communication, it has been seen that wrong data is entered into the system, which later becomes a problem. Due to wrong data entry CNICs are blocked and put into investigation. “The process for rectification of wrong data entry is one which the respondents are unaware of and at times unable to initiate due to a lack of understanding,” the findings noted.
Even though the NADRA system is centralized, the findings pointed out that the people migrating from one place to another internally in Pakistan are harassed at the NADRA centers. There are numerous cases of persons being told to go to their area of birth to apply for CNIC, the study said. “This practice exists despite the fact that the NADRA website specifically states that the applicant can apply from anywhere in Pakistan.”
Due to reasons of discrimination, non-availability of documentation and a general lack of knowledge and understanding of the process, there is an increasing reliance on agents and payment to acquire a CNIC. “In many cases large sums of money are exchanged, which ensures that the applicant receives a CNIC,” the findings said. However, there are many incidences of the same being done through improper channels. “This results in intruders in the family tree, being put in the F category, cancellation of the CNIC subsequently due to being made through fraudulent means and incorrect, faulty data collection,” the findings pointed out.
Among other measures, the study recommends expanding the outreach of mobile units and involving lady health and polio workers in facilitating seasonal workers’ access to CNICs. In addition, documentation requirements must be made less stringent if this vulnerable group is to be given access to the benefits of citizenship, including access to social safety nets.