Invisible citizens: recognising Pakistan’s adopted children

Published: October 9, 2010
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Babies are abandoned almost daily at Edhi centers around Pakistan.

Six months ago, a friend of mine had to take her daughter to a child cardiologist, two days after her birth. When the doctor asked her if the child’s birth was natural or caesarian, she informed him that she did not know. He looked at her perplexedly and asked if the father might confirm. She said, promptly, as if this was rehearsed, “I do not know her father.” The fact is, my friend does not know her daughter’s father. She has never met him. Ditto her child’s biological mother. Her child’s genes are a mystery to her. Regardless, she is more her parent than anyone else on this planet. This means, she is spiritually and legally responsible for the baby’s well-being and feels an affinity with her that she says she has not yet felt with her own blood relations.

Adoption law – does anyone care?

Six months into becoming a parent, my friend has not been able to get a B form for her daughter, despite the fact that the court has awarded her full rights as a guardian of her little girl. Without getting into the spirit behind her rather unusual path to becoming a parent, let me give you all a short, brief summary of the perils of adoption in this country and how NADRA is single-handedly compelling many to seek the path of illegality to legitimise what are otherwise court-sanctioned children.

In Pakistan, there is no law that governs adoption. This does not mean that adoption is illegal; it simply means that there is no law to regulate this beautiful exercise. Like planting a garden in your own territory or engaging in the sale of silk, breathing and being are not regulated, but are legal. Similarly, adoption per se is not illegal.

However, the law that regulates the process of adoption itself is the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890. Although this act itself does not institutionalise adoption, it has sensitised our courts to adoption in Pakistan. The courts recognise that adoption provides a very important function in our society and has existed for a very long time. Although traditionally, it was restricted to within the family and by couples who could not have children, now it has extended to multi-faceted families, including single parents. Our courts have never stopped a single person from adopting a child, as long as the court has established the person’s good character and financial ability. The fact is, with the kind of poverty and overpopulation we have and the average number of infants being abandoned at birth rising weekly (if not daily), courts will have no moral foundation to deprive a child who has been abandoned on the street of a caring, loving and secure environment. What we do not have are scrutiny agencies, institutionalised NGOs and robust systems in place, thereby pushing adoption processes to be strictly private affairs. If the courts can make a robust analysis, we are still fine.

So this is how adoption is undertaken: Through the guardianship route. Once an individual is granted the guardianship of a child, the next natural step would be to get the child a Form B, so that the child can integrate into civil society. Here is where the travesty of justice takes place.

NADRA’s failure to protect children

Our central agency, NADRA, which is solely responsible for granting Form Bs to children, does not recognise guardianship. It refuses to acknowledge wards as legitimate and refuses to register adopted children under the name of the guardian, thereby forcing many to seek false birth certificates, marriages and fake parents to legitimise their children.

According to NADRA, if a child does not have any known parent, the child cannot be registered. NADRA has proven itself to be an agency which wants abandoned and destitute children to remain unregistered, unprotected and unable to exercise their fundamental rights, because they had the ill fortune to be abandoned by their natural parents.

Contempt of the court

Our children are our most cherished hope and asset. It should be the responsibility of the government and all its agencies to support and protect them. Millions of children can be taken off the street by caring, responsible adults who could protect them from exploitation. Failing to recognise many honourable court orders pushes NADRA further into contempt. Adoption and guardianship has to be recognised by NADRA so that they can assist, rather than hinder, programmes that support the development and protection of children. All children in any case have a right to equal opportunities for development, growth and civic amenities, all of which are denied to them because of their inability to get a Form B. NADRA has exposed itself to suo moto or a class-action lawsuit, for acting against the constitution (Article 25, equality before the law). It should act now and create a process that allows the registration of wards and adopted children, otherwise it will be guilty of serious contempt of court.

sharmeen.khan

Sharmeen Khan

A corporate lawyer who works in the private sector in Karachi.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

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