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UN body assails census data sharing with Nadra, army

Updated September 24, 2017

ISLAMABAD: An observation mission that monitored the recently-held population and housing census has described the sharing of census data with a ‘third-party institution’ as “a breach of confidentiality of the collected data” according to census practices and procedures.

The mission, deployed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the request of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, also observed that “the participation of the military in the census process is not at all a recommended international practice.”

In the case of Pakistan, though, observers noted that it was essential for two reasons: to ensure the security and to avoid any mishandling of the data. However, “data collection by the military… amounts to a parallel census and this is not internationally acceptable,” the mission report says.

Observer report says army men copied data from civilian enumerators

Age records were mainly obtained from CNIC data and most often verified by the accompanying army officer through SMS to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra). This, the report said, “breached confidentiality”.

The UNFPA had developed the terms of reference of the mission and contracted national and international observers, in consultation with a sub-committee of the PBS governing council. The purpose of the mission was to ensure that the census conducted was in line with internationally-accepted practices.

The army also administered a questionnaire, which had information on the total number of household members and the detailed nationality of the head of household. “This is very unusual and questionable especially given the fact that the main questionnaire had no provision for detailed nationality,” the report said.

The report also pointed out irregularities in the way enumerators and their army escorts collected information. For example, most observers noted that it was the civilian enumerator who provided the information about nationality to the army enumerator if the information was not seen on the identity card.

Apart from completing their own questionnaire, army enumerators were equipped with mobile phones through which they specifically verified the identity card numbers of respondents, either to be sure of their authenticity or to obtain information about the nationality and age of the identity card holders and other linked family members.

In most cases, the report said, army enumerators completed their own questionnaires by looking at the questionnaire of the civilian enumerator. In some cases, where he was not able to do so, it was done later in the evening at the end of the day’s work, by copying the information from the civilian questionnaire.

“It is of course very unusual for soldiers to not only collect information in a population census but also to embark upon verification of (the) respondent’s demographic information. In doing this, collected census data was shared with two other parties (the army and Nadra), which might further compromise the data quality, and which constitutes a breach of census data secrecy,” the report says.

“The exclusion of the residents (refugees or non-refugees) living in refugee villages from the census also breached the principle of universality. These issues need to be addressed urgently by the concerned offices if the census is to be considered in line with national legislation and basic census principles including international standards,” the mission report says.

It says the army provided much-needed logistics for the census, but noted that soldiers were also playing the role of enumerators, collecting information about respondents through the civilian enumerator, but not directly speaking to the respondents.

The army officers that accompanied the enumerators were considered cooperative and rather open regarding their participation in the census exercise. They were very willing to share their own census forms and explained why they sent CNIC numbers to Nadra.

Observers based in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa reported that they were not allowed to observe enumeration in refugee villages because no census was taking place there. According to their report, the district administrator of the area where refugee villages were located informed the team that no counting exercise would take place in any of the refugee villages because of a government directive.

However, if a refugee resided in the city, he/she would be counted or enumerated under the category “other nationality”.

This posture is however surprising because according to the United Nation Revised Census Principles and Recommendations, “population census is the total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analysing and publishing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a specified time, to all persons in a country.”

Monitors in all provinces also reported problems with the enumeration of transgender individuals, and persons with disabilities.

The report recommended that enumerators should be better trained to interpret responses related to literacy. Many of them confused education with literacy, so that people who were literate but had not attended school were considered illiterate.

In all the provinces, observers reported that outdated maps constituted a major problem in the census.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2017