Can we be sincere to our children?

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By Amjad Ali Siyal

The members of the United Nations are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC). States around the world have ratified this landmark convention with a pledge to provide civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights to children. As we set out to mark the 30th anniversary of the CRC, there is a need for introspection vis-à-vis progress so far made, need to identify gaps and measures needed to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable segment of society.

Now that Pakistan is to submit 30 years of report to the UNGA, the progress on this front is questionable. Pakistan ratified this convention in the year 1990 during the premiership of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Unfortunately, since then, we have witnessed all sorts of crimes perpetrated against children. According to the 2018 findings of child rights NGO Sahil, 3,832 cases of child abuse were reported in 2018, with 51pc of the cases involving female children and 49pc male children. This is 11 percent increase as compared to 2017. Shockingly, these figures are of the reported cases and the number of unreported cases may be far greater than that. Here the situation begs a serious question whether the ratification and subsequent legislation introduced in the parliament and the provincial assemblies has accrued any fruitful results for the protection of children. If the answer is in positive then why the cases of child abuse have increased instead of decreasing? This can surely be interpreted as for the sake of credit, we have introduced laws one after the other, nonetheless from implementation point of view we are at the pre-CRC ratification stage.

 

There are a number of laws which are in a dormant state thereby making our children more vulnerable to all sorts of abuses. After the 18th amendment, the social welfare department, under whose jurisdiction lies subject of children, was devolved. Thereafter, the provinces introduced remarkable legislations such as Child Protection Authority Act; Prohibition of Employment of Children Act; Child Marriage Restraint Act; Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act; HIV and Aids Control Treatment and Protection Act, etc. Notwithstanding the passage of these laws from the respective assemblies, hardly any Act is fully functional thus rendering these laws ineffective and infringement of the rights of the children. Resultantly, that dormancy is in contravention to the country’s pledges as enshrined in the CRC.

Ironically, we have developed a tendency to take action after media sensationalism which stirs public outcry. Take the case of seven-year old rape and murder victim Zainab Ansari, after the issue was highlighted by mainstream media, public furore intensified and the entire government machinery was busy to capture the perpetrator and they did it, which is commendable. Moreover, the case was tried in the Anti-Terrorism Court, with a view to swiftly conclude the case. This case was dealt with on a high priority basis under the public pressure. Same high priority status was accorded to the cases of Sahiwal victims’ killed by CTD (though accused recently released), Namrita’s mysterious murder or suicide, Salahuddin’s custodial death, etc. Despite the fact time and again such cases are reported, a comprehensive action plan remains missing and only highlighted cases are prioritised and swiftly adjudicated. This inclination reflects that instead of institution’s capacity building, they have been trained to work in case public hue and cry compels to do so!

Infringement of human rights is prevalent. Be that as it may, the negligence in the protection of child rights is a matter of serious concern as they are the most vulnerable section of society. With 22 million school-going age children out of school; 40pc children under five stunted and 17pc suffering from wasting; as per Sahil NGO over 10 children suffering some form of abuse every day in Pakistan; children marriages so prevalent; HIV epidemic in children mostly under five; child labour widespread, etc., what Pakistan will be presenting to the UNGA on the eve of 30th anniversary of the CRC that children-specific issues of today’s Pakistan are as old as the convention itself. Can we be serious to take plausible steps for ensuring implementation of the CRC and take the ownership of the convention as our agenda, not thrust upon us by INGOs/UN?

There is an urgent need to remove all the difficulties in case if any arises in giving effect to the legislation, policies or any other mechanism with regard to child rights. The CRC must be incorporated in legislation and the relevant laws be given high priority without further delay. It is of paramount importance to  fully functionalise Child Protection Authorities on war-footing basis. There is also a need to develop a comprehensive mechanism for dealing with the menace of child abuse such as integrated facility if anywhere a child abduction case is reported, it may be disseminated to all the police stations, child protection authorities and relevant line departments that all should be making all-out efforts for the safety, recovery and rehabilitation of the abducted child. Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), 2019 is also a vital step in this regard. It is hoped ZARRA will not meet the same fate as other child protection dormant laws. Answer to the simple question can help us to resolve the issues of child vulnerabilities: can we be sincere to protect our children?

The writer is a development sector practitioner and can be reached at amjadsiyal@hotmail.com