Lessons From Dealing With NADRA: Case Studies In Helping Citizens Get Their ID

"We expect all adults to have a minimum level of cognitive capacities. But when we have not invested in their abilities, it is unfair to have such expectations"

Lessons From Dealing With NADRA: Case Studies In Helping Citizens Get Their ID

Pakistan has over 250 million people who live within its borders. Not all of these residents are recognised as citizens- for a variety of reasons. Invisibility only serves those who require a grey area to prey.

Accessing a National Identity card, I believe is a foundational fundamental right for every Pakistani. Getting a card in Pakistan becomes even more difficult when you are non-literate and poor.

In my previous articles, I shared the complex processes and documentation NADRA requires for citizens to acquire a national identity card.

This would be par for the course in a ‘normal’ country, but in Pakistan the human development indicators are abysmal and the capacity to comprehend and document birth life death evidentiary documents, is incomprehensible.

But, today is about celebrating the success stories and the learning from the process we had to go through in Jaffrabad Balochistan.

Below are five particular cases which I believe we can learn from. They also demonstrate the disconnect between policy and reality on ground. But we managed to get through it. What lessons can be gleaned from these experiences. This should be taken in the spirit of improving governance by listening to constructive feedback.

After all government’s aim is to serve, right?

Case 1

"My name is Bashiran and my husband's name is Muhammad Akbar. We live in Goth Allahabad (in Jaffrabad Balochistan). Some time ago I applied for a national identity card (CNIC) and, without my knowledge, my father-in-law's name was written as my father's name in the NADRA records. A month later, I went to the NADRA office to collect my card, at that point I was told that my card was blocked.

I am not literate. I cannot read.

I left not knowing what to do? Why was it blocked?

I was very worried. Baji needs this card to build my house.

Too many non-literate citizens are unable to understand the errors in the NADRA database, or the relevance of such errors for them not getting a national identity card

I persisted and went regularly to NADRA’s office and eventually I was told to come to a meeting, but the issue was not resolved, and my card remained blocked. I was exhausted from visiting the NADRA office repeatedly.

Only when strengthening participatory organisation’s Noor sb contacted the local government authorities and, with their reference, I visited the NADRA office again with Noor Sahab. Mustafa Sahab at NADRA office checked some records and found that my father-in-law's name had been listed as my father's name.

How did that happen? I have no idea.

Once the issue had been identified because Noor sb insisted on finding the source of the block on the card, NADRA asked me to bring my father and brother who verified me as their sister and daughter. On that basis of verification, my data records were corrected.

I was then allowed to apply for my CNIC again.

I received my ID card a few weeks later.

I am thrilled, because I can now also apply for my children’s identity card.

This journey has been a difficult one which has taken over 2-3 years."

Bashiran’s case is a clear indication of the critical need for data entry to be accurately punched in but equally important for there to be a social worker or support staff to facilitate the non-literate applicant who do not understand the importance of the information and the implications of inaccuracies. Something that shouldn’t have happened but once detected rectified in 5 minutes of data entry took years.

This challenge exists amongst many Pakistan citizens, not merely in Balochistan. Even if this was only the case in Balochistan, I would respectfully suggest NADRA include a social worker whose sole job would be to facilitate, help, reach out, explain, recheck and support them through any of the processes, especially the data/documentation needed for a CNIC. We have a lot of government employees let’s put them to use.

I have worked in the many villages across Pakistan and realised that too many non-literate citizens are unable to understand the errors in the NADRA database, or the relevance of such errors for them not getting a national identity card.

Literacy it not merely a skill for reading and writing, but training of one’s mind in a particular pattern, the ability to reason logically from point A to point B. We expect all adults to have a minimum level of cognitive capacities. But when we have not invested in their abilities, it is unfair to have such expectations. These abilities are taught, not innate.

It is imperative the staffing at NADRA and local government offices in the districts are appropriately trained and sensitive to the challenges many such citizens face. Moreover, the cause of the problem must be immediately identified, explained in the manner that is understood and then solved. In this case, the error was not the applicant’s but of the data entry personnel. fix it and move on without the need for a third-party facilitator.

Case 2

Mamtaz from Allahabad village drove us around the bend.

In her own words:

"My name is Mamtaz, and my husband is Muhammad Akram. We live in Goth Allahabad. I am approximately 35 years old and married with children. My husband has a national identity card (CNIC), but I didn't have one. I needed this card because Baji insisted the house, she was building for us required me to own it. Therefore, for legal work I needed an identity card.

I visited the NADRA office, in fact multiple times, to get my CNIC made, but they wouldn't make it. At first, I did not know why. Other women in my community have them.

I learned later; the NADRA system had blocked my mother’s card which was causing the issue for me. My father has passed away and could not verify me or my mother. I don’t know why but this is the reason not giving me a card.

When we spoke to the local government authorities (with Noor sb) and visited the NADRA office in Jaffrabad with their references, they checked the (NADRA) records thoroughly and found that my mother's record showed two entries, while my father's record showed only one entry, which we were unaware of. I do not understand what this means, but this is why I was being denied a card. This discrepancy had caused my mother's CNIC to be blocked as well, and therefore I couldn't get my CNIC made. We were forced to make multiple trips to the NADRA office without any solution or resolution to this problem.

Finally, after several trips with Noor sb, NADRA suggested a solution: I needed to obtain a marriage certificate (Nikah Nama) and birth registration document, and only then they would issue my CNIC . I have never needed such documents but it seems now we need these papers. I have no clue where to get such documents nor what to say to which official. Without Noor sb, I just would not have bothered because I would not know what to do and where to get these papers or explain what I need to the officers in charge.

Noor sb managed to get the local government officials to get me these documents and then I was able to apply for my NADRA card. A few weeks on I was able to pick up my card. I am overjoyed because this is an important card, my children can now get it.

It is important, I needed to get my home."

In this case, the errors made in her parent’s data entry had a direct impact on Mamtaz and her children.

This is another case in point for local government and NADRA to simplify their processes for the educationally challenged members of our society. Government procedures have too many anti poor, impractical imbedded assumptions which makes it very difficult for poor applicants to navigate government officialdom without assistance.

That assistance must be made available with partnerships with social support organisations and staffing. Moreover, at the government level, the officers in charge must be skilled and not make errors that have a negative cascading impact on the already deeply disenfranchised.

Case 3

Our third case was tailor master Zulfiqar from Allahabad who had lost his CNIC in the 2022 floods and rains. His lost card was very old and had expired many years ago. He had no need for it and therefore never bothered renewing it.

Now, Zulfiqar needed his card for legal paper work. We were building a home for his family in Allahabad.

When he went to the local NADRA office, he was unable to have himself verified according to NADRA's rules.

He did not exist.

He had no documentary proof of his existence.

Zulfiqar is an elderly widowed gentleman with three under age children. No birth registration or documentary evidence of his existence nor of his children.

In light of this complete blankness, the local government of his area agreed to verify him and provide a document. We are grateful to the local government officials who agreed to verify him and provide documentary proof of his residency and existence.

On the basis of this document he could apply to NADRA.

His children Taimoor, Firdous and Maria have now been able to apply and receive their ID cards too.

Sadly, this amazing example is an exceptional case.

Local government has not consistently provided a document to the many undocumented residents who need a birth registration document, or age verification document, or residential verification for NADRA to meet the requirements for a CNIC.

The procedures to get a birth registration document for an adult or a young person is complex and cumbersome. I understand since May 2024 the documentation requirement for applying for a CNIC for the first time, has become even more stringent. Everyone must have a birth registration document.

Sadly in Pakistan, the practice of getting a baby’s birth certificate is limited. Since there is no comprehension of its value why aren’t the lady health workers in Pakistan assigned this task as part of their duties. Similarly, all other government extension workers who work at the household level should be tasked to help the household get all their necessary documentation in order. Service delivery at its core.

In a developed society or a polity, citizens are not battling basic human needs, the responsibility of documenting and registering life events is theirs. In the absence of this reality, it must be on the government’s shoulders to get these documents as the simultaneously socially mobilise the public of their importance.

Government officials must relook at their service delivery planning and strategies in light of the poor citizen’s ability to deliver them. Government officials must go to the citizen rather than expect the citizen to come to them especially with regards to national foundational documentation and registrations. There must be a shift in government’s strategy in achieving such goals. All extension workers should be trained with these tools, aims and capacities.

Case 4

Mumtaz’s from Arbabmalla was another case we needed to untangle before she could get her CNIC. A widow with a young daughter, she was unable to renew her expired card in Jaffrabad. NADRA officials in Jaffrabad insisted she bring her brother-in-law only to verify her identity.

He lived in another province and was also unwilling to help his widowed sister-in-law.

Mumtaz had been a second wife to his deceased brother. After his death, the family had broken all ties. She moved to her parent’s home town, Jaffrabad.

I was personally involved in this case. On one of my trips to Jaffrabad I accompanied her to NADRA’s office. I asked the officer in charge directly why was Mamtaz denied verification by her living mother who lived in Jaffrabad? Why should the uncooperative non blood relative brother-in-law, be the sole verifier. This wreaked of misogyny and patriarchy. Her own relatives irrespective of gender, Should be sufficient for verifying her identity.

On this occasion the NADRA official was kind enough to agree and granted this request. As a result, Mamtaz was able to apply for her renewal of her CNIC. Soon after, her daughter was also able to apply for her B card.

I cannot emphasise enough the need for both NADRA officials and local government offices to become more sensitive to the needs of the poor. It is very important officials to be gender sensitised and help women, widows and socially vulnerable segments of our community. Lets help not make it more difficult for them. They find it more difficult to navigate government officialdom.

Why can’t we see linkages with Zakat ministry staff, social welfare ministry, lady health workers, or even NGOs contracted formally to help? There is a vast extensive government employees’ network who need to be put to use in aid of the poor citizen.

Case 5

Rakhi an incredibly resilient woman from Hindu ghot was our most complicated case. Today we so much joy I write that she can finally apply for her CNIC. Her story has been shared in these pages in a previous article.

Rakhi case involved a blocked CNIC because the data entry had her age older than her father; plus the difference in age between her siblings was less than 9 months; and because her mother was less than 15 years older than her, which is "an unnatural relationship." As a result of multiple reasons Rakhi could not get a birth registration certificate from the mayor’s office, who required an age verification procedure not available in Jaffrabad. Without a BR she could not apply too NADRA.

We managed to get her a birth certificate from the local government. Her age was altered from 1982 born to 1988 to rectify the unnatural age between mother and daughter. The law in Pakistan demands a mother cannot be under 15 years of age. Once we managed to get her a birth registration document with 1988 as her birth year to address this problem, we went to NADRA with her BR to apply for a renewal of her CNIC. At this point NADRA raised the issue of the discrepancy of date of birth in the old CNIC (1982) and the new birth registration certificate which said 1988.

True. But the error or rectification was suggested by NADRA to resolve one of the issues that had blocked her card. Unnatural relationship with her mother. I find this term extremely problematic. The reality in Pakistan IS too many girls/children are married and have children well below the age of 15.

This is our sad reality.

If the law insists, correctly, this should not happen, should the consequences be born on the child or the mother? Who is responsible for this unnatural situation?

That being said, in this case the data entry errors regarding the age of the father less than his daughter were not the non-literate applicant’s fault. She couldn’t read the screen or comprehend the data even if she was shown it.

Once again, a case highlighting the consequences of a mistake by a data entry personnel, born by the applicant.

If Rakhi did not have champions in her corner assisting her through these series of challenges, she could never have gotten her CNIC.

I would like to thank the local government officials who issued Rakhi her birth registration document. Today I am also grateful to DG NADRA in Quetta for arranging a special sitting in Jaffrabad to clear RAKHI for her application for a CNIC. I am deeply indebted to Noor sb on ground accompanying her and her family to the NADRA office, and helping them through the queries at NADRA Committee.

Today we celebrate. A day of celebration for Rakhi and all those she represents. I hope the many Rakhi’s out there have the same number of champions in their corner.

Tomorrow we will tackle the next challenge.