Pakistan’s legal system has a set process of birth registration and ascription of legal identity. Yet, a startling total of 10 million children born under the age of five within Pakistan have no place or mention in the country’s records. Naturally with no recognition under the law these children are knocked into a perpetual cycle of rejection, stigma, violence and marginalization from the rest of society. These invisible children grow up to be invisible adults that are by all intents and purposes ‘stateless’.
This is highly unfortunate. The failure of the state to take those born within its territory under its security umbrella is a violation of fundamental rights. The right of a child to be registered at birth and acquire a nationality is protected under Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). The National Child Policy too recognizes that every child has the right to life, liberty, name and a nationality. Without these the child is excluded from access to child rights, protections and benefits—leaving children open to exploitative practices such as child labor and child marriages. The lack of a birth certificate automatically translates into inaccessibility to free healthcare, an education and eventually a good quality life. A majority of unregistered children in Pakistan belong to rural areas, and are born to poor and largely uneducated parents, who are uninformed about the dangers of unregistered births. These children grow up to live their lives on the periphery of Pakistani society, unable to participate as full citizens.
Poverty and illiteracy are the main reasons behind the gap in birth registration. The problem can be tackled on two grounds, one: capacity and two: accessibility. It is essential for the government to attend to both areas on an urgent basis. The administrative machinery must be directed towards increasing awareness on the importance and the process of registration, especially in rural areas. Launching widespread awareness campaigns, and increasing effective coordination and partnerships between the relevant departments can be a promising start. The state should also increase focus on capacity-building of union councils by investing its resources and providing staff-training.