THE passage of the draft National Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill, 2015, during the current session of the National Assembly is an important step in the right direction. It is neither designed to be a panacea nor is it likely to eliminate the scourge of child employment and abuse. But if the NCRC functions even to a fraction of the expectations of it, countless young lives may be saved. Consider the two new cases of alleged child abuse of illegally employed domestic workers that have surfaced over the weekend, one each in Islamabad and Multan. The grotesque allegations of torture and domestic servitude made by the families are heartbreaking. In the Islamabad episode, a 12-year-old girl was allegedly burned with hot knives, beaten with leather belts and prevented from visiting her family for four years. The monstrousness of such crimes may defy comprehension, but the law must not shirk from punishing such crimes. There are too many such instances that come to the public’s attention to suggest that urgent interventions are not needed.
While commissions are often toothless or ineffective in practice, the NCRC may be in a position to make critical interventions. The parliamentary bill, among other things, empowers the NCRC to help strengthen the legislative framework for the rights of children, inquire into incidents of rights’ violations and recommend that criminal proceedings be undertaken. Perhaps most visibly, the NCRC, once operational, will be able to house children who have been removed from abusive environments and, hopefully, will be able to give the physical care and psychological attention that such children need. The unregulated domestic workers’ sector and a prevalent social mindset that family matters must remain private no matter what the cost surely means that many children continue to be abused in the country. But rescuing those children and saving others from prospective harm is possible. No state or society, no matter what the challenges they face, can allow crimes against children to continue unabated