Missing People, Missing Rights
Universal Birth Registration in Pakistan
By Patricia Leidl | Published by World Vision
It is an overcast day and stagnant ponds of greasy water pockmark the fields that surround Matta, a nondescript village located in Kasur, Pakistan, a bleakly impoverished district huddled against the teeming Indian subcontinent to the south. In the compound where Safina Sarfaz, her husband and three daughters live, goats bleat angrily while scrawny chickens scratch amid piles of refuse.
Despite the harshness of her immediate surroundings, however, Sarfaz is a happy woman. The three cards that she holds in her rough hands are as precious as gold. For the 23-year-old mother, they represent a triumph of maternal devotion over Pakistan’s notoriously byzantine bureaucracy. For her daughters—Sonya, 5, Sana, 3, and 4-month-old Aliza—the hard-won birth registration cards offer nothing less than an escape from the devastating poverty that has blighted their family for generations.
“I am illiterate myself”, says Sarfaz, who goes on to recount how she was sold into marriage while still a child to an armed forces truck driver many years her senior. “I was married off when I was still playing with toys”, she says. “I don’t want that to happen to my daughters. I want to educate them all so that they are well aware and better able to make informed decisions about their future.”
Sarfaz is pinning her daughters’ hopes—and her own—on something that citizens of more developed countries take completely for granted: birth registration. Considered a fundamental human right in most countries, such basic identification is relatively rare in Pakistan, where 40 per cent of all men and as many as 52 per cent of all women are unregistered.