Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday launched a health plan for the transgender community in the Muslim-majority country.
The Sehat Insaf Card, which is part of the government's Sehat Sahulat Program, is a scheme designed to improve access to medical care and provide free medical treatment to disadvantaged sectors of Pakistani society.
"Today, the cards we have delivered are the first recognition and a great step towards the transgender community, which has long been ignored." Khan said at the launch, according to local media reports.
"Unfortunately, with a heavy heart I have to say that people have no empathy for our transgender community that lives such a difficult life," he said.
Khan said his government was determined to protect the transgender population of Pakistan, while working to change the attitudes of the general public towards the community.
According to the health plan website, more than 6 million families are enrolled in the Sehat Sahulat Program.
Over the past decade, Pakistani lawmakers have passed several laws that protect the rights of the transgender community in the country.
In 2009, the Supreme Court granted transgender Pakistanis a special status, with equal rights to those of other citizens of the country.
In 2018, Pakistan's parliament passed the Law on Protection of the Rights of Transgender Persons, which It allows citizens to choose their gender and to be recognized in official documents such as passports, national identification cards and driver's licenses.
However, law enforcement is slow, and the community continues to face persecution and live largely outside of Pakistani society.
Many live in isolated communities, often have no choice but to beg in the streets or sing and dance at private parties for a living. Some also resort to prostitution to make ends meet.
In its World Report 2019New York-based Human Rights Watch said there were about 500 attacks in 2018 against trans women in the northwest province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, of which at least four were killed.
A 2017 population and housing census showed that there are more than 10,000 transgender people in the country. However, the rights group Charity Trans Action Pakistan estimated that there are at least 500,000.