LAHORE: After three years of repeated attempts to get her digital national ID card, Rubina – a woman from the Pakistani city of Karachi – has decided to take her battle to court, winning a historic victory.
Until then, Pakistanis had been unable to obtain the Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) unless they presented their father’s identity card – an impossibility for many people, including those like Rubina who were raised by single mothers.
The card is essential for voting, accessing government benefits including public schools and health care, opening a bank account, or applying for jobs.
“I would show up there and they would tell me to bring my dad’s card,” Rubina, 21, said.
“My mum raised me after my dad abandoned us shortly after I was born – how could I provide his ID then?”
Rubina’s frustration prompted her to file a petition with the Sindh provincial high court, which ruled in November that the government agency that oversees CNIC should issue her a card based on her citizenship record. mother.
For Rubina, the move meant she could apply to take over her mother’s job as a state education department attendant when her mother retired.
More broadly, her case ends the effective exclusion of children of single mothers from the ID card system, said Haris Khaleeq, secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an organization in non-profit.
“Without CNIC, no public service is accessible, nor can any banking transaction be carried out,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“In short, you have no rights as a citizen.”
The agency in charge of CNIC, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), said it was working to reach people so far excluded.
“The government has a clear policy that people who are supposed to be registered in the database will not be excluded,” said Salman Sufi, head of the Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit, which oversees the implementation of the law. federal politics.
Created in 2000, NADRA manages the country’s biometric database and claims to have issued some 120 million CNICs to 96% of adults in this country of approximately 212 million people.
Each card includes a unique 13-digit identifier, a photograph of the person, their signature, and a microchip that contains their iris scans and fingerprints.
Yet millions of people in Pakistan, including women, transgender people, migrant workers and nomadic communities, still do not have CNICs.
More … than 1 billion people around the world have no way to prove their identity, according to the World Bank.
As governments around the world adopt digital ID systems they say improve governance, the UN special rapporteur on human rights says they rule out marginalized groupsand should not be a prerequisite for access social protection schemes.
A study of migrant workers in Karachi by the HRCP last year showed that women were more likely not to have a CNIC, leaving them vulnerable to destitution if their husband died or left the family.
Children whose parents are unregistered are particularly vulnerable, as they cannot obtain birth certificates, and are at greater risk of trafficking and forced labor, the HRCP said.
He recommended more mobile registration units and female staff to help register vulnerable groups, as well as simpler processes and less stringent documentation requirements, which also make it harder for immigrants to apply.
Only half of the approximately 2.8 million Afghan refugees who have lived in Pakistan for decades are registered with the government. There is also a large population of unregistered Bengali, Nepali and Rohingya immigrants in Pakistan.
“The majority of Pakistanis of Bengali origin do not have CNICs and live as foreigners and illegal migrants in their own country,” said Sheikh Feroz, a community leader, at a recent rally to demand CNICs.
NADRA – which has also helped set up digital ID systems in Bangladesh, Kenya and Nigeria – said it has a dedicated registration service “especially for women, minorities, transgender and unregistered people”.
The agency said it has several women-only centres, especially in border provinces, “to overcome the socio-cultural barriers of women reluctant to deal with male staff”, and gives priority to the elderly and people disabilities.
“Everyone will have the opportunity to register. No group based on ethnicity, race or religion will be excluded,” said Sufi, from the Strategic Reforms Unit.
For those with a CNIC, privacy breaches are a risk.
The CNIC database is accessible to around 300 public and private service providers, from the tax authorities to the electoral commission and mobile service providers.
There have been several data breaches, indicating insufficient security, said Nighat Dad, a lawyer and executive director of the nonprofit Digital Rights Foundation.
“Women often complain of harassment after their personal information has been leaked and are weaponized to blackmail them,” she said.
“As there is no data protection law, there is no liability even when personal data such as phone numbers are leaked,” she added.
Data breaches that expose personal data are particularly risky for vulnerable groups such as journalists, activists and religious and ethnic minorities, said Haroon Baloch, senior program manager at Bytes for All, an advocacy group digital.
“Citizens are unaware of the use of their biometric data,” he said. “Personal data attached to biometric identifiers can be misused, with serious privacy implications not only for the individual, but also for their family.”
NADRA officials dismissed accusations that the data was compromised, saying the database has a multi-layered security system “that makes hacking impossible”.
For Rubina, who couldn’t even get a COVID-19 vaccine without CNIC, just getting the ID is half the battle won.
“I’m glad others aren’t suffering like me,” she said.