Who Is Responsible For The Rights Of “Illegitimate” Children In Pakistan?
While parents are seen as main caregivers for children, it is also seen as the primary duty of the state to provide protection to women and children, which is expressly signified in article 35 of the Constitution of Pakistan. In fact, the judiciary has interpreted the intention and objective of Article 35 to be the protection of the liberty and dignity of the child and ensuring that the child is brought up in a favorable social environment so as to make them good citizens.
Children deemed by society as being “illegitimate” face a plethora of problems regarding their recognition of nationality status, lack of education, health and social status in society. A heart-wrenching report published in The News disclosed that prominent NGOs such as EDHI Foundation and Chhipa Welfare Foundation have found 345 new born babies in the street garbage drums of Karachi from January 2017 to April 2018 and 99 % of them were girls.
This is only the figure for Karachi city – leaving to us to guess how many innocent children would be thrown into the garbage drums in other cities of our country. Was there any action taken by the Law Enforcement Agencies to discharge their statutory duties?
This failure occurs despite the fact that Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life and liberty, and the Government of Pakistan has signed and rectified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on the 17th of April 2008. Pakistan is now under international legal obligation to ensure the protection of the rights of the child – and this applies regardless of whether children are deemed “legitimate” or “illegitimate.”
In Pakistan, the document known as Form B and the computerized national ID card (CNIC) are the backbone of every person’s right to survival in their country. For the illegitimate child, a major issue is the registration of Form B and CNIC – the difficulty arising due to the names of their parents being unknown to authorities. There is no special consideration for such cases – the Parliament has not brought forward any bill in this context in the past. Starting from the process of obtaining basic ID documents, therefore, it is very difficult for the illegitimate child to survive in society. He/she is deprived of these fundamental rights which are incorporated in the Constitution of Pakistan.
In the case of Levy vs Louisiana, the US Supreme Court held that the illegitimate child is not a “Non-person.” They are human, alive and have their being. They are clearly “persons” within the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. This judgment provided a milestone toward the equality of the illegitimate child with the legitimate child. Many of the enactments from this point onwards made discrimination against the illegitimate child unconstitutional. In the US, a child born out of wedlock enjoys all legal rights as a legitimate child, except inheritance from the father.
During his tenure, former President Asif Ali Zardari took a positive step in favour of children of unknown parentage and directed the NADRA authorities to use his name as a father’s name in official documentation for any abandoned child. This step provided legal status to many unknown children. Currently, however, there is no enforcement of the rights of an illegitimate child.
The current President should immediately promulgate an ordinance for the “father name” of illegitimate children until there is proper legislation.
The federal government under Article 25 of the Constitution should propose special enactments for the rights of illegitimate children, including their financial support, health, education and homes – with a monthly stipend for them.
Federal and provincial authorities should also financially support the EDHI Foundation and other NGOs to protect such children. And the Federal government should also ask for an opinion for these enactments from the appropriate religious quarters in this regard, so as to bolster its efforts.
The writer of this article is a Human Rights activist and a final-year student of LLB(Hons) at the University of Swabi