Count every child, because every child counts

Giving children in tribal areas the right to identity

Fatima Shahryar

15 January 2018

BARA District, FATA - January 2018: Count every child because every child counts!’ is a tagline that emanates UNICEF’s commitment to child rights by ensuring registration at birth.

A birth registration is the permanent and universal recording of a child’s birth and a legal proof of his/her existence and identity. It contributes to mitigating the risks of child labour, early marriage and children being treated as adults in the criminal justice system.

However, it is difficult to imagine that even in today’s time, children in some parts of the world continue to live a life of deprivation only because their birth is not registered.

Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is one of those regions where children are at risk of not having access to their rights; as birth registration rate in FATA is only one per cent. This alarmingly low number also reflects the general state of Birth Registration in Pakistan, which stands at 34 per cent.

"For us, the only reference to our identity was our family and neighbours."

Mohammad Awais, 14 year old Student

Being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Government of Pakistan is committed to provide children their basic rights to survival, development, protection and participation. In line with this commitment, the FATA secretariat has pledged to have all children in the territory to be registered at birth by 2024.

“For us, the only reference to our identity was our family and neighbors,” says Mohammad Awais (14), a student at Gul Public School, Khyber Agency, FATA. “It was only at the time of admission in this school, that I and my family learned about birth registration certificate – the document that certifies my identity and helps in claiming my rights too.”

To support the FATA Secretariat, UNICEF initiated a pilot birth registration exercise in Bara District of Khyber Agency in early 2016. National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) was taken on board to allocate resources and initiate formal birth registration process. The activity was successfully conducted in selected districts from three agencies of FATA; Khyber, Mohmand and Bajaur.

Mohammad Awais (14) resumes his education in a private school after acquiring birth registration certificate. Bara District, Khyber Agency, FATA.

Taking efforts forward, and having received an overwhelming response from the community, NADRA established a dedicated Birth Registration Unit in Bara district, in April 2017. The unit has so far received 103,813 application forms, duly filled and verified, of which approximately 14,000 children have also been issued their birth certificates.

FATA has faced security issues in the past decade. This has impacted daily lives of the residents. Children’s education has also suffered as several educational institutions had shut down. This led to many children being left out of school. Mohammad Awais was one of them.

“Gul Public School was the only school in our area that was operational,” says Awais. “All other schools had shut down. In this school, birth registration certificate was a prerequisite for admission. I did not have it but I was also not prepared to give up my education. I sought help and guidance from Mr. Shahid Gul, principal of the school. He advised me on how to acquire my birth certificate. He also explained the importance of the document and suggested that I should get it for my siblings too.”

"The birth registration certificate is a pre-requisite for admission in my school. It was difficult to arrange one for parents but it benefits their children forever."

Shahid Gul, Principal of Gul Public School

Although birth registration certificate is not a prerequisite for access to basic services in Pakistan, some institutions in FATA made it a prerequisite for children seeking admission in schools, or health care at local hospitals in order to support the initiative.

Gul Public School, a private educational institute is one of the exemplary institutions that not only remained operational during the times of insecurity in the area, but also made birth registration certificate a prerequisite for children’s admission in the school. 

Sharing his thoughts, Shahid Gul, Principal of Gul Public School says, “I received many threats to shut the school down. However, my resolve to ensure that the children of my community are not deprived of their right to education, remained strong. In ensuring children’s rights and working in close collaboration with the government authorities, I made birth registration certificate, a pre-requisite for admission into my school. I knew that it might be difficult for the parents to arrange one under the circumstances, but also knew that it would benefit their children for the rest of their lives.”

Shahid Gul, Principal at Gul Public School, delivers a lecture to 9th grade students. Bara District, Khyber Agency, FATA

Highlighting the importance of the birth registration initiative in FATA, Jahangir Khan, Assistant Director, Local Government Rural Development says, “I cannot explain how big a blessing this project has been for the people of this region. Young people from other agencies who are not yet included in the system have also started to approach us for birth certificates. Families are willing to get their children registered at any price. We are hoping this initiative will expand to all areas of FATA, as no one deserves to live a life where one is deprived of fundamental rights, and all opportunities that follow thereafter.”