One million children of unknown parentage face identity crisis in Pakistan

Mohammed Jibran, 12, is one of the children without parentage in Pakistan. He is studying in a makeshift school on the outskirts of Islamabad. He is looked after by a philanthropist, but is not registered with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) as a Pakistani for lack of any procedure for such children. (AN photo)
Updated 30 January 2018

One million children of unknown parentage face identity crisis in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: “I do not have a home to live in or any siblings to play with,” said 12-year Mohammed Jibran. He cut a meek figure, dressed in shalwar kameez with a green hoodie on top to protect him from the cold, as he sat in his one-room school with a book in his hand.
“I want to become a doctor and I take regular classes here,” he told Arab News. “An uncle gives me books, pencils and food.”
As dusk settled, around a dozen children gathered in this makeshift school on the outskirts of the federal capital. Like Mohammed, they do not know who their parents are.
Not knowing their parents’ names, they are unable to get a birth certificate. Without a birth certificate, they are unable to enroll in either government or private schools.
And these children make up just a tiny fraction of an estimated one million Pakistani children of unknown parentage. Unregistered, they exist outside of the law, victims of social taboos and of a lack of political will to extend them social welfare and legal protection.
“The data collected from provincial welfare departments shows that the number of children of unknown parentage is around one million,” Mohammed Hassan Mangi, the director general of Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights, told Arab News, adding that that number is an estimate based on “rough figures” and that his personal belief is that it could be higher “if properly counted across the country.”
But with only 31 percent of births officially registered in Pakistan, Mangi acknowledged the difficulty of maintaining accurate records. However, he stressed the need to enact proper laws for children of unknown parentage.
“These children lack any identity and are bound to face enormous difficulties in their lives,” he said. “We should not hate the souls who have come into this world. Instead the state should adopt them and make sure they enjoy the same rights as other Pakistanis.”
The current registration process for children of unknown parentage is both complex and cumbersome, and goes a long way to explaining why just 2,318 of them are so far registered with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).
NADRA’s policy is that if a child’s parentage is unknown, then a software application randomly picks a name for their parents. However, the policy adds that those names “will not be fixed.”
In order to qualify even for that bemusing process, a child has to be enrolled in one of the 49 orphanages registered with NADRA. Any child that does not meet that requirement, said NADRA spokesperson Faik Ali Chachar, is “not our responsibility.”
Federal legislation to provide proper protection and care to children without parentage is only in its initial stages.
Sharafat Ali, a senior lawyer and legal consultant to Ministry of Human Rights, said that once Parliament passes the Child Protection Bill, it will compel NADRA to take much-needed action and to register “every unattended child.”
But in the continuing absence of proper legislation, orphanages, non-governmental organizations and child welfare protection centers cannot officially care for children without parentage, Farshad Iqbal, manager of research and communication at the Islamabad-based Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), explained.
He suggested the government should either establish its own child protection units at the district level or allow trusted NGOs to take care of children of unknown parentage.
“The registration and proper care of children without parentage is a grave human rights issue and we have raised it with the relevant authorities numerous times, but so far nothing concrete has been done,” Iqbal said.
The influential religious cleric Tahir Ashrafi told Arab News that Islam dictates society must look after children born out of wedlock. He urged the government to set up special shelters for children of unknown parentage.
“We should condemn and hate the act itself but not the children who have come into this world,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the state to take care of these children, so that they can become useful citizens.”
Mohammed Ilyas Ansari, Punjab Parliamentary Secretary for Bait-ul-Maal and Social Welfare, told Arab News that the Punjab government is currently amending the relevant laws to ensure the protection and registration of children of unknown parentage.
“These children are our responsibility,” he said. “We are consulting religious clerics, legal experts and human rights activists to deal with this issue effectively.”

Marginalization blights lives of French people of Arab origin: Survey

Updated 29 min 37 sec ago

Marginalization blights lives of French people of Arab origin: Survey

  • An Arab News en Francais/YouGov poll suggests the largest minority group in France suffer from lack of acceptance, even stigmatization
  • More than half the respondents said they adhere to secularism and believe it could help alleviate problems in the Arab world 

DUBAI: As a wave of violence inspired by radical Islam shakes French cities and the culture at large, creating a sense of insecurity and fear, Islamophobia is on the rise. Islamism is not Islam, but for lack of knowledge, conflation of the two is easy.

It is through this wrong prism that French Muslims are viewed, as well as some Jews and Christians due to their Arab origins. INSEE, France’s national statistics bureau, said that by 2019, 55 percent of immigrants (both first and second generation) had come from Arab countries. They are the largest minority group in France and therefore it is not for an extremist minority to represent them.

For the first time in France, a survey was carried out among French people of Arab origin. Arab News en Francais commissioned leading online polling firm YouGov to conduct research on the perception of their life in France and their position in the face of secularism.

Arab News Research and Studies Unit partnered with YouGov for the survey which was carried out between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, and was based on a representative sample of 958 French people from Arab countries, living in France.

The survey confirms their desire to belong to a democratic and secular France. It emerges that all religions are not perceived in the same way by French society, as indicated by the feelings of the French of Arab origin, Muslims and Jews who were interviewed.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of those interviewed were found to be educated and employed, while French people of Arab origin are generally familiar with the French system and its history, and adhere to the fundamental values ​​of the French Republic.

The French of Arab origin have largely adapted to the way of life in France, but they do not feel accepted, with many citing a sense of stigmatization. Both religion and their national origin have no impact on their sense of belonging to French society. But the sounding of their name has an impact on their careers.

Half of the people questioned believe that neither their race, nor their origin and their religion had any impact on their feelings of belonging to French society and on their professional careers. Their responses, however, underline a feeling of exclusion which, for 51 percent is not linked to skin color, but rather to the ethnic origin of their name (36 percent), which, on the other hand, has a negative impact on their career prospects.

This feeling of exclusion is exacerbated among women who believe that their country of origin (46 percent against 33 percent of men) as well as their religion (66 percent against 52 percent of men) causes a negative perception among their compatriots.

French people of Arab origin clearly respect French values, such as secularism, and believe that a secular system would be beneficial for their country of origin. Many even claim to be ready to defend this model in their country of origin.


55% French immigrants with roots in Arab countries.

51% Who did not link feeling of exclusion to skin color.

36% Who linked feeling of exclusion to ethnic origin of their name.

In fact, 54 percent of them advocate secularism, which would be, for them, a solution to the problems of the Arab world. The people questioned are reluctant to interfere with religion in politics and appreciate the secular system applied in France, which they even openly defend in their country of origin.

Moreover, the majority is not in favor of regulations on religious clothing, but 45 percent of men, 48 percent of respondents residing in rural France and 50 percent of those aged over 55 support regulatory laws and are in favor of such decisions, against 29 percent of the youngest (18-24 years) interviewees.

The oldest are better integrated than the youngest who were born in France. The younger generations are much less enthusiastic about state institutions and seem to be going back to their parents’ roots, thus reinforcing their sense of otherness.

The survey highlights the widening gap between the generations, insofar as young French people of Arab origin aged 18-24, for whom their religion is perceived positively (53 percent), seem less inclined to respect the regulations and join institutions like the national football team. Thus, 58 percent would support the football team of their country of origin against France, while 58 percent of men aged 35 to 44 and 72 percent of those over 55 would support the French team.

This last point reflects a generational gap and a generational conflict, which represents a major challenge for the future. A significant 49 percent of respondents and 52 percent of 18-34-year-olds believe that education levels are the most important factor in advancing their careers, but that their last name alone has a negative impact on their career, despite their ability to progress and the fact that they give themselves the means to do so.

A better knowledge of French people of Arab origin, peaceful and attached to the values ​​of freedom and secularism, is essential if the fight against extremism and Islamization in France is to be won.