Under the new NADRA policy, the head of an orphanage where such a child lives is eligible to become that child’s legal guardian by providing an affidavit, so long as the orphanage is legally registered and recognised by NADRA. The old procedure was to go to court and seek guardianship certificates for each child. Orphans could not be registered with NADRA because they had no legally appointed guardian, which kept them from obtaining national identity cards. The matter was first pursued in 2011 by Abdus Sattar Edhi, who advocated NADRA issue the ‘Form B’ to children whose parentage was unknown and were living in shelters and orphanages. Only once a child has a “B” can an application be made for a Pakistani passport.

It was high time that the state played some role in its responsibility to such disadvantaged children. The burden of caring for these children is in the hands of charity organisations and private individuals like Edhi or SOS Children’s Villages. In the past, due to Islamic law, a child needed parents’ names to secure guardianship and often fake names would be made up. The Edhi Foundation has been instrumental in this development and provided data from its Karachi office. In the case of Mr Edhi, it seems that a national hero’s efforts still bear fruit.

Such a policy helps illegitimate and abandoned children who have no past records. Previously, unless these children were adopted, they faced much difficulty in registering as citizens. What must be ensured is that mechanisms that help children do not lead them to be exploited. NADRA has written to about 31 institutions in accordance with the list provided by the Ministry of Social Welfare to register the organisations with NADRA. There are many illegal and grey organisations that work under the guise of ‘charity’ and are allowed to take care of children, often leading to sexual exploitation, child labour and money profiting. Unfortunately, children are still bought and sold, beaten and abused, and there is no way to monitor or remedy this until issues of poverty and patriarchy are addressed. The government has acted as a policy maker, now it needs to act as a watchdog and ensure that the organisations that are registering themselves with NADRA are legitimate and up to the task of child welfare.