A condemned fate for our future -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

A condemned fate for our future

Pakistan Press Foundation

Pakistan’s periodic compliance report to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child provides a potent reality check for our policymakers.

As speakers at conference held this past Thursday raised the ever pertinent question of our children’s future, it seemed that despite many people actually being bothered about the state of children in the country, the current situation is enough to raise alarm over the plight of our little ones.

Organised by Devcon, an NGO which caters to development and human rights, the conference “Concluding Observations on the 5th Periodic Report of Pakistan in the Compliance of UN-CRC” discussed the reservations made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in June after the report was presented in May. Pakistan had ratified United Nations, Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and since then is bound to submit a periodic report every five years.

Explaining the procedural steps of submission of the report, child rights defender Iqbal Ahmed Detho discussed the effects of 18th Amendment on the state of affairs as the provincial government now bears the responsibility of policy making and unlike previous times, relies on the federal government for resources.

Regarding the roles played by state actors, Detho talked about various areas where the government needs to work tirelessly to make sure that the children born and raised in the country were safe and were given their rights. He pointed out that CRC raised queries about the question of ‘right’ age, rampant child abuse, enrollment of children in seminaries, early marriages and gender inequality as well as the juvenile punishment for them.

Age limit discrepancies – Who is a child?

With various definition of adulthood, it seems that age is certainly not a number because of the discrepancies found in multiple laws followed by the state including the Shariah law which relies on puberty to determine maturity. The Convention calls for all under the age of 18 to be dubbed as children, however the Committee welcomed the 2013 Amendment in the Sindh Child Marriage Act which raised the marriage age for all genders to be 18, a notion yet to be set in other provinces where the minimum legal age of girls is 16. The Committee stresses its previous recommendations that the state needs to harmonise its legislation with regard to the definition of the child.

Seminaries for schools?

Following an agreement between Interior Ministry and seminary organisations in 2011, madrassas were given full autonomy over their syllabus which eventually led to a surge in admissions of children. The report raises concerns over registration of children who are reportedly exploited and are also recruited in militant activities by non-State armed groups. In order to safeguard the rights of children which are ignored owing to differences between religious beliefs and the Convention, the Committee urges the state to keep a tab on the seminaries, both registered and unregistered, especially their curriculum to avoid children becoming baits.

Gallows for children

Ever since the moratorium on death penalty was lifted in in December 2014, the country saw many then juvenile convicts face the hangman’s noose and despite numerous calls for juvenile justice, the executions did not halt. The Committee has serious grievances toward these hangings and wants the state to take to prioritise this concern by reviewing cases of under trial prisoners who committed a felony under 18 years of age and to stop their execution and converting it to a prison term. The juvenile convicts must be given proper access to lawyers under Juvenile Justice System Ordinance of 2000 even if they are accused of cases concerning terrorist activities or violation of Shariah law.

Given that the state is yet to introduce proper laws against child pornography, the Committee urges the state party to raise awareness about child abuse and make concentrated efforts to curb CSA from all provinces.

Labouring away childhoods 

Although it has become a rarity to see children working on construction sites, it’s far easier to spot them serving tea at small shacks or picking up garbage to sustain themselves. Referring to the pressing issue of child labour, Farhat Parveen of NOW Communities said that there was an outcry when international organisations tightened sanctions in light of the employment of children in carpet weaving and textile industries: “We need to understand that alongside education we have to figure out how to curb unemployment because the children who end up working are trying to make ends meet because their elders or guardians force them to do so. We should stress on functional literacy and adult education so that we can gauge where we actually stand.”

The curse of malnutrition

Dubbing malnutrition as the root of all problems in children, Ali Azhar Mirza, Secretary General of Pakistan Medical Association, citing previous statistics said that according to United Nations Development Program Maternal Health Index, Pakistan ranked on number 135 out of 174 countries. He mentioned that dialogue maternal health was necessary because infant mortality rate was directly related to the health of the mother as well the presence of skilled birth attendant.

“In many rural areas, girls are married off when they haven’t even reached adulthood which causes complications in pregnancies. I have seen countless such cases where the deaths of either the child, mother or both were inevitable. The children who luckily survive are unable to sustain because they do not receive the required vaccination courses because of geographical and status inequities,” he said.

What now?

Looking at the status of the rights of children, the recently appointed Minister Social Welfare Shamim Mumtaz assured the attendees that the cabinet would look into the issues on priority basis and mentioned that education issues are being looked after on emergency basis.

“We believe that public and private partnership is a viable solution for betterment of people contrary to what was mentioned earlier as to how it creates discrepancies. The Child Protection Authority Act has been filed and in order to work closely we would want to forma provincial task force which must have civil society representatives so these matters can be eyed closely.

Acknowledging the issue of children’s age in many cases, she said that it would get systematic very soon and requested the authorities to remain careful while handling sexual assault cases especially while revealing the name of the survivor.

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