Pakistan gymnastics team fights for ID in case which could bring it to 3 million
A team of young gymnasts who are excluded from Pakistan’s centralized digital identity system are fighting to be recognized by the state. If successful, up to three million other people in Pakistan who are currently effectively stateless without the increasingly-important ID card could then be eligible to register. Although for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis, simply obtaining an ID card is not enough as they can be deregistered at any time and for unknown reasons.
The situation is at odds with the vision of the chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority of Pakistan (NADRA), Dr. Tariq Malik, who has been speaking of the biometric digital ID system as a way to achieve significant steps for inclusion and digital development in the country.
The Imkaan Gymnastics Teams has been winning top prizes in international competitions held online during the COVID pandemic, but without the national digital ID, the members are prevented from travelling beyond their home base of Karachi to attend further competitions, reports Coda Story.
The children and teenagers in the troupe are typically the children of Bengali-speaking families who have lived in Pakistan for generations – all without legal identity.
The CNICs (Computerised National Identity Cards), often referred to as NICs, are for Pakistani citizens and require stringent documentation and finally biometric capture for issuance. An increasing number of aspects of daily life require the card or the Proof of Registration equivalent for refugees. They are needed for opening bank accounts, school enrolment, employment registration, receiving welfare and buying SIM cards.
Troupe members say they cannot be vaccinated without an NIC, cannot travel, cannot enrol in “big schools” and their parents cannot find work.
Tahera Hasan, director of the Imkaan Welfare Center, told Coda that the children in the gymnastics team are among the three million people in Pakistan’s Bengali and Bihari communities.
“According to the law, all these children are entitled to citizenship of Pakistan,” said Hasan. “They’re three generations that have been living here. Even people who are of Pakistani origin struggle with identity issues because of the processes that are in place.”
Hasan has appealed to the Ministry of the Interior to address the citizenship status of the team members. She has notified the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and sent a copy to the Human Rights Ministry, but has yet to hear a response. If her appeal proves successful, it could be a test case for all three million stateless persons to qualify for citizenship.
“There is completely a lack of political will to resolve this issue,” said Hasan.
“We are also focused on vulnerable communities where there is a registration gap. I have put in place a separate section within NADRA to oversee inclusive registration,” said Malik.
“One of the important pillars of my strategy is digital inclusion. This means universal coverage and accessibility. This doesn’t mean people coming to NADRA, but NADRA going to people’s doorsteps to register them. The second pillar is the design framework, and the other is digital governance, where we are looking at digital infrastructure.”
This may come as a surprise to those who have had to travel great distances in attempts to prove their eligibility or to have card suspensions reversed, as outlined in further in a series on Pakistan.
Inclusion is very important to Malik’s vision of the country’s digital ID system: “Registration of women, special persons, transgender and gender-neutral persons is our goal, as well as making sure that all minorities are represented in the database. So we have opened incentive-based programs, meaning some social welfare programs for these communities are linked to the ID card.”
Parents who have not been able to prove their own citizenship have tried to get their own children born in Pakistan registered. Many are unable to. “It was one of my goals when I accepted this assignment that we have to populate our civil register. Children have to be registered, which is not the case for now. We have a plan, I think from next month, to roll out child registration,” Malik told the ID4Africa audience in October 2021.
A further report by Coda uses case studies to present the extensive list of issues and frustrations people have faced with their CNIC’s being suspended or “digitally impounded.” From a village elder whose family’s land claims go back way beyond the founding of Pakistan, to orphans who have no documents of their parents’ citizen status, the stories reveal how there seems to be no clear pattern as to why exclusions occur, but that in all cases it is extremely difficult and expensive for individuals to try to reactivate their CNICs.
The story of a trans woman also reveals how staff simply do not know how to handle certain requests, trying instead to force people into taking other steps.