ISLAMABAD: In a landmark move, the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) unveiled on Thursday a new policy to deal with the registration of parentless or abandoned children.
Under the new policy, the head of an orphanage where such a child lives is eligible to become that child’s legal guardian by providing an affidavit. This replaces the old practice of going to the relevant court to seek guardianship certificates for each such child.
Before this, a child could only be legally adopted if a guardian court issued a decree to the person claiming guardianship under the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890. Without a court decree, no-one could claim to be the legal guardian of a parentless or orphaned child. In the past, orphans could not be registered with Nadra because they had no legally appointed guardian, which kept them from obtaining national identity cards, the primary proof of citizenship.
The policy was disclosed before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, who ordered the chief secretaries of the four provinces to ensure that all relevant provincial departments were aware of the new policy and extended their complete assistance to the authority to ensure its implementation.
The matter was first brought to the notice of former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry by philanthropist and social worker Abdus Sattar Edhi in 2011. In a letter to the then-CJ, Mr Edhi complained that Nadra was not issuing ‘Form B’ to children whose parentage was unknown or those who had been abandoned by their parents and were now living in Edhi shelters.
Heads of orphanages eligible to become legal guardians
When Mr Edhi’s daughter, who runs the shelters, tried to adopt and register such children, her requests would be denied by Nadra in the absence of a formal certificate of guardianship.
The court had earlier framed key questions regarding the adoption of abandoned children that required interpretation from both religious scholars and legal minds. It had also appointed former high court judge Tariq Mehmood and Karachi-based legal expert Makhdoom Ali Khan amici curiae (friends of the court) in the matter.
Afnan Kundi, who represented Nadra during Thursday’s proceedings, told the court that the authority had so far registered 610 destitute children who were living in orphanages. A total of 3,087 children remained unregistered.
But with the implementation of the new policy, most of the hurdles to the registration of abandoned children had been tackled, he said.
Under section 9(1) of the Nadra Ordinance 2000, the authority is bound to register every citizen of Pakistan, inside or outside the country, who has attained the age of 18 years. The birth of a child must also be registered by a parent or a guardian not later than one month after the birth.
Under the new policy, it is mandatory that the orphanage in question is registered with Nadra, a complete record of all children previously residing there is available and all documents of the relevant authority of the orphanage are in order.
In case a child’s parentage was unknown, whatever name was recorded by the orphanage in its records would be registered with Nadra. The orphanage would be responsible for providing these details and could assign any name to the child’s parents, as long it wasn’t a generic or placeholder name, such as Edhi, Abdullah, Adam or Eve.
For each new registration, it would be mandatory for the orphanage to report each new birth to Nadra and pre-empting any future claims of parenthood, DNA tests should be conducted by the orphanage if possible.
The chairman had also decided to issue identity cards to such orphans free-of-cost, the Nadra counsel told the court.
The court held that with the promulgation of the policy, Mr Edhi’s grievance appeared to have been addressed.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2014