Minority rights activists question credibility of Pakistan’s first digital census

    Minority rights activists have expressed serious concerns about the manner of the ongoing census, which is being conducted digitally for the first time in Pakistan’s history.

    In a press conference on Monday, former Punjab minister Ijaz Alam Augustine and Center for Social Justice (CSJ) Executive Director Peter Jacob said that even though the date for the seventh census has been extended for the third time, the enumeration, as well as the provisional data, reflected lack of preparedness and training of staff.

    For his part, Jacob said: “The civil society has serious reservations about the way the census has been conducted.”

    “PBS claimed the process will be completely digital, the staff would be fully trained to use the devices, and no gaps will be left to ensure everyone is counted, but the ground reality is beyond PBS’s claims,” he said.

    He emphasised the importance of the census, its socio-political impact, social justice, and future planning and mapping to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

    Jacob further stated that during the past year, the CSJ had repeatedly engaged with the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) with recommendations to make the process credible, transparent, and inclusive.

    Regarding the “correct count” of religious minorities, CSJ also issued White Paper in June 2022 about the declining demography of the minorities in the previous census at a press conference in Islamabad, impressing upon the need for a credible census.

    “Yet, PBS has missed out including all the religious diversity of Pakistan including Baha’i and Kailash which are recognised minorities,” a statement from the CSJ mentioned.

    It stated that PBS had enough time to prepare but neglected rigidly the necessary aspects of preparation

    The statement said that the CSJ had also engaged in awareness campaigns among minority communities and observed and facilitated the enumeration along with volunteers in 24 districts.

    Moreover, it informed PBS about irregularities such as the use of paper in data collection, etc. PBS therefore must extend the date for improving the process and correct entry of data to achieve credible and accurate results.

    “The best course would be to make the collected data available at the union council level and allow people to identify the missed population. A culture of secrecy would further damage the trust and its credibility therefore a third-party evaluation of the data compilation would be necessary.”

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