At a policy consultation held on itinerant workers’ right to citizenship documents, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) presented the key findings of a study examining the obstacles to citizenship for seasonal workers based in and around Karachi.
The study shows that women from such communities are often actively denied this right because it is not considered important for them to possess computerised national identity cards (CNICs)—otherwise a means of empowerment. Children of unknown parentage are especially vulnerable: there is no provision for issuing them with birth registration certificates, leaving them at greater risk of violence, trafficking and induction into child labour. Most itinerant workers surveyed also said they had been unable to access relief during the Covid-19 crisis, given their lack of citizenship documents.
Among other measures, the study recommends expanding the outreach of mobile units and involving lady health and polio workers in facilitating seasonal workers’ access to CNICs. In addition, documentation requirements must be made less stringent if this vulnerable group is to be given access to the benefits of citizenship, including access to social safety nets.
Sindh Assembly member and PPP representative Shamim Mumtaz, chairperson of the Sindh Child Protection Authority, pointed out that, although itinerant workers’ children were entitled to citizenship documents under the law, NADRA policy did not facilitate the right to registration at birth, adding that local governments had a key role to play in improving access to citizenship documents.
Another member of the Sindh Assembly, MQM representative Rana Ansar, emphasised the need for policy alternatives that would allow itinerant workers to apply for citizenship documents even in the absence of a permanent address or family registration certificate.
Provincial assembly members Mangla Sharma, Sadaqat Hussain and Abbas Jafri also attended the policy consultation and deliberated on the study’s findings with members of civil society and the media.