The sixth census is being held after a gap of over 18 years and will be completed by the end of May this year, according to state-run Pakistan Television.

The house listing and the two-phase enumeration exercise is estimated to cost the national exchequer around 14.5 billion rupees (approximately $138 million).

The move by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government came only after the Supreme Court took suo motu action over the delay in carrying out the crucial process.

Second time delay

This is the second time the census has been delayed since the country gained its independence in 1947 from the then British Empire.

The first four censuses -- 1951, 1961, 1972, and 1981 -- were all held on time, but the fifth census was held after a seven-year delay in 1998.

Pakistan is estimated to be the second-largest Muslim country in terms of population after Indonesia. It currently ranks as the sixth-most populated country in the world.

According to the 1951 census, there used to be just 33.7 million people in the country, which rose to 42.8 million in 1961, 65 million in 1972 and 85 million in 1981.

The last census of 1998 estimated the population at roughly over 130 million with Punjab emerging again as the most populated province, followed by Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.

The government of Pakistan and the United Nations believe the current population to be somewhere between 180 million and 200 million.

New initiatives

For the first time in the country’s history, transsexual people will be counted separately. In a move hailed by human rights bodies, people will now have three numeric choices in the enumeration form to mark their gender: man, woman or transsexual.

The persecuted transgender community appreciated the new measure.

“It is like if we have been recognized by the government and the society for the first time. I am very happy about this,” Neelm Khan, a Karachi-based transgender told Anadolu Agency.

The central and the provincial governments have allocated some jobs for transgenders in recent years; however, due to the absence of their specific population figures, there is no particular quota for this community in the public sector.

Khan hoped the recognition and enumeration of transsexuals would now help the community get government jobs as well and an opportunity to earn other sources of income instead of the current means of dancing, begging and prostitution.

“I don’t want to dance and beg. Trust me, I have no choice, otherwise I want to do a decent job like any other segment of the society,” Khan said.

Afghan refugees to get counted

The enumerators will also count millions of Afghan refugees who have been residing in the country for a long time separately.

Currently, Pakistan is hosting 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees -- the second largest refugee population in the world after Turkey, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 2016.

Authorities, however, estimate Afghan refugees living illegally in Pakistan to be over a million.

“We do not have exact figures of the [Afghan] refugee population in the country as there has been no census for nearly two decades. We are acting up on mere estimates,” Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political analyst told Anadolu Agency.

“A specific tally of refugees will certainly help the government determine their financial stakes in the country, and chalk out a practical policy for their repatriation and matters related to law and order,” he said.

Inclusion of minorities

The census will also determine specific population of religious minorities, particularly Christians and Hindus, whose current numbers are based on estimates.

According to current estimates, Christians make up the country’s largest minority with 3 percent of the total 180 million population, whereas Hindus constitute 2 percent of the population.

But the number of registered Hindu voters are slightly higher than Christian voters.

According to local English daily Dawn, the current population of Christians and Hindus is estimated to be between 2 million and 10 million, and from 2.5 million to 4.5 million, respectively.

Regional languages ignored

The census form lists only nine of the country’s over 70 national, provincial and regional languages, upsetting many communities that believe the move threatens the existence of their already “in trouble” languages.

People have been given the choice to tick one language as their message from the national language Urdu and regional languages Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, Balochi, Siraiki, Brahvi, Hindko, and Kashmiri.

Pakistan has dozens of other languages as well, some of which have been declared as endangered. However, Gilgiti, Gojali, Gujrati, Urmrai, Doomaki, Sheena and other languages spoken in between the snow-capped north to the country’s warm south have not been mentioned in the census form.

The census is also expected to highlight the country’s actual literacy rate. According to official estimates, Pakistan’s literacy rate in 2016 was 69 percent for males, and 49 percent for females, leaving a gap of 20 percent between the two genders.

The form will also not determine the population of disabled persons in the country. The government assigned 2 percent job quota for disabled persons in the public sector after two provincial high courts intervened.