2012: an unremarkable year for rights of women, children
Karachi: The threat of terrorism in many parts of the country, coupled with procrastination on the part of lawmakers in taking effective measures, made 2012 an uneventful year for the cause of women and children rights, experts say.
However, at least one law was passed in November, i.e. Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, in accordance with Article 25-A of the Constitution, making it compulsory for the state to provide free education to children from the age of five to 16.
Apart from this concrete law, the government set up commissions to oversee the situation of human rights in general, but rights activists lament that the government could have done more at the structural level to make things better.
There are a number of basic issues that remain unsolved as far as laws regarding children are concerned. For instance, confusion still surrounds the legal age of a child, since a number of laws count the age of child differently. Here is an example: in the Child Marriage Restraint 1929, (amended in 2009), the minimum marriageable age of female is 16 and of male 18. In the Juvenile Justice
System Ordinance (2000), the age of culpability 18 for both the sexes and in the Employment of Children act (1991), the minimum age of a child is 14.
So there is a clear contradiction within the laws, which fail to ascertain the legal age of a child. The matter is taken subjectively by the state, depending on the case in hand — which is a clear negation of the UN convection on child rights, which considers anybody below the age of 18 as a child.
The right to citizenship of orphans, which affects street children, also remained an issue and was overlooked in 2012 despite assurances held out by Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
The National Database and Registration Authority requires the information of a blood relative in its form, which makes it possible for many to acquire the citizenship of the country, resulting in tremendous hardship for orphans, or individuals with unknown origins, especially the hundreds of thousands who has grown up on the streets.
One of the glaring incidents in the province of Sindh involving children was the Baldia garments factory fire that claimed more than 250 lives in September. During the investigation of the incident, the inquiry tribunal was told that the majority of the workers in the factory were children; therefore, they were not registered as employees. This was done in flagrant violation of the Employment of Children Act (1991), which clearly states that individuals below the age of 14 are not allowed to be employed in any circumstances. But the tribunal was told by an
EOBI official that there were a large number of child labourers in the factory, and they were therefore not registered as workers. The Sindh government has shown immense laxity in the enforcement of children and labour laws in the province, compared to Punjab, where the provincial government has been proactive in discouraging child labour by dispatching inspection teams to factories in order to bring the law against child labour in effect.
Successive Sindh governments have also failed to provide adequate security to polio workers operating in the province, especially in the city of Karachi, as the incident of December 18, 2012 showed, in which five polio volunteers were killed. The tragic incident dented the anti-polio campaign in the province, making Pakistani children vulnerable to polio and thus endangering their future.
Among health issues, the problem of malnutrition was one that required serious attention from the lawmakers, as a report from 2011 cited Sindh as the most ill-fed province in the country.
“The Sindh province also has the highest rate of malnutrition among children and women in comparison to other provinces as stated by the National Nutrition Survey (NNS)-2011,” stated a news report in April 2012.
But the government did not take any conspicuous measures to rectify the situation. The report further explained: “About 58 percent of the survey households were food insecure (adults and not children or both experienced the inadequacy of the household food supply without hunger or with hunger in the household) at the national level.”
Also, floods have affected interior Sindh and compounded the miseries of the rural population in recent years. The report added that Sindh was termed the poorest and most food-deprived province of “the country with only 28.2 percent households having food security, while the remaining (about 72 percent) was found to be food insecure”.
In 2012 the federal government did not sign any international treaties regarding human rights, and it is yet to ratify the UN’s Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict. Pakistan signed the convention in September 2001 but is yet to ratify it. With a growing number of children being used as suicide bombers, Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world faced with the crisis, yet the government has made no efforts to deal with the problem. Despite verbal assurances from women legislators to make it into a law, the Domestic Violence (prevention and protection) Bill 2012 has been lying in the cold storage with no concrete outcome from the Sindh Assembly. In one of the assembly sessions held in the outgoing year, the bill came under discussion, but was flagged down, though politely by male legislators.
The opponents of the bill claimed that the punitive actions proposed in the domestic bill for aggressors were far too harsh; therefore the bill needed to be “deliberated over”. However, civil society activists, including many female lawmakers, find nothing wrong with the proposed bill and many term the objections raised by its opponents as delaying tactics.
Despite being an uneventful year, when looked from the vantage point of pieces of legislations passed on issues related to women and children, the year 2012 witnessed a number of incidents that certainly highlighted the cause of human rights in the country.
At the top of the list is the case of Malala Yousafzai, the fifteen-year-old girl from Swat, who shot to fame when, on October 9 2012, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan attempted to kill her. Malala’s incident brought to the limelight Pakistani women’s plight and caused uproar the world over. The attack on Malala has prompted Prime Minster Raja Pervaz Ashraf to declare the coming year of 2013 as the year of children rights.
It has also driven President Asif Ali Zardari to launch a programme aimed at enrolling three million Pakistani children in school over the next four years.
The ‘Waseela-e-Taleem’ initiative, undertaken on November 9 when UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, visited Pakistan, will provide free education to the poorest children and will be part of the Benazir Income Support Programme.