Global Human Rights Defence

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS IN PAKISTAN

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS IN PAKISTAN
Quite Thirsty. Islamabad Pakistan. Source: © Abdul Qadir Memon/Flickr, 2013

Author:Kirsten O’Connell

Department: Pakistan Team

Introduction:

“The child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society…in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity” (Extract from the preamble of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). Pakistan’s progress in safeguarding child rights through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is disappointing, and children remain one of the most vulnerable groups of the population in every aspect (CRM, 2015). Despite the government’s claims to the contrary, children’s rights have not improved notably in the last 25 years since Pakistan ratified the CRC in 1990. The government lacks commitment to protecting and promoting children’s rights in any meaningful and sustainable manner. The weak political will to improve child rights is demonstrated by the absence of a holistic approach, a feeble effort to improve coordination, data collection, awareness raising, capacity building, attitudinal change, and in particular the government’s failure to establish bodies to monitor the implementation of the CRC. Delays in related legislation and poor budgetary allocations for children are also characteristic of State handling of the matter of child rights (CRM, 2015).

The CRC defines a child under Article 1 as any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier. On the other hand, child rights can be defined as “the rights, which are concerned both with the protection of the individual child and with the creation of the conditions in which all children can develop to their full potential” (Sadruddin, 2011). However, in Pakistani law there is a lack of consistency in the definition of the child and gives different age limits for different purposes (Sabreen, 2017). For example, the Majority Act 1975, states a minor is a person who has not attained the age of 18 years (Berti, 2003). The Pakistan Penal Code 1860 fixes the age of criminal responsibility under Sections 82 and 83 at 10 years for a child. (Sabreen, 2017) The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act 1933 defines a child as a person under 15 years. The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 lowers this age limit by prohibiting employment of a child below the age of 14. (Berti, 2003) This all demonstrates the lack of inter-departmental consistency and therefore poses a challenge for the National Commission for Child Welfare and Development (NCCWD) and other agencies. As a continuum from above, practical implementation of various legislations at the provincial level also becomes difficult. For example, the Constitution of Pakistan mandates free education for all children from five to 16 years and prohibits child labour and child marriages. However, despite these mandates, and continued efforts from various State and non-State agencies, this goal is far from being achieved (Younus & et al., 2018). Furthermore, there is a fundamental issue in defining a child and aligning the definition to the CRC even after Pakistan ratified the UNCRC. For instance, there is a parallel Federal Shariat Court system in Pakistan which defines puberty as the end of childhood. These contradictions in the fundamental state task of defining a child, which should technically inform all laws related to children, create significant hurdles in the way of protecting child rights (CRM, 2015).

Law:

The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 is the main document that guarantees the fundamental rights for every citizens without any discrimination of language, colour, creed, or caste. It includes various articles that enshrine child rights and child protection, such as Article 25, that guarantees the right to education, Article 11 (3), that relates to the prohibition of hazardous labour of children, Article 25 (3), which empowers the government to make special provisions for the protection of women and children, and Article 35, that guarantees the protection of family, mother and child (LRF, 2020). Apart from the constitutional provisions and legislation at the federal level, there are also various provincial laws. These include the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011, and the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 (LRF, 2020). In 1979, the NCCWD was established by the government of Pakistan. The NCCWD is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the children who are receiving their constitutional, legal and administrative rights. It also makes suggestions for amendments to the constitution and national laws and formulates national policies and legislation for child welfare, development and protection (Younus & et al., 2018).

Furthermore, Pakistan was the sixth country in the world to ratify the CRC, and subsequently adopted it within less than a year after it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 (LRF, 2020). The CRC was the first legally obligatory international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights, civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. Therefore, Pakistan has State obligations to protect children in Pakistan by setting standards for their healthcare, education, security and legal, civil and social services and to develop legislation that will help build children’s lives, so they can develop to their full potential, free from discrimination, hunger, neglect, exploitation or other abuses (Sadruddin, 2011).

Analysis:

When signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Pakistan committed to take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect and fulfil the rights of all children born or living in the State. However, Pakistan has yet to fulfil that commitment. The concluding observations of the UN Committee on the CRC exposed numerous delinquencies on Pakistan’s part, such as, the State’s inability to legislate in favour of children, barriers to enforcement of child laws, weak coordination among stakeholders, poor financing of interventions related to child welfare by the government, negligence and corruption of local level government officials to check child labour and child abuse.

Furthermore, the State has not established a national commission on child rights. In September 2017, the Parliament of Pakistan passed a law which provided a legal basis for the establishment of a National Commission on the Rights of Child. However, no concrete steps have been taken yet. The following year, in January, 2018, a six year old girl Zainab Ansari of Kasur was raped and murdered, which prompted the Parliament of Pakistan to pass the Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection Act in May, 2018. This law provided the creation of a Child Protection Advisory Board and led to the establishment of Child Protection Institutions (CPIs), which aim to assess the issues and needs of child protection and to develop childcare plans. However, the government machinery failed to create this board. Furthermore, according to Sahil, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the cases of sexual abuse of children has increased from nine per day in 2017 to 12 per day in 2018 (Aziz, 2019).

The major categories of child abuse include abduction, sodomy and rape and the data from Sahil reports indicated that children between the age of six and fifteen are the most vulnerable to abuse. In regard to child labor, UNICEF reported that 16 percent of children between the age of five and 17 are involved in child labor. The domestic child workers suffer the most at the hands of their employers, and at times result in their deaths. The horrific murder of 16 year old Uzma at the hands of her employers in Lahore is one of many examples. In regard to education and health of children in Pakistan, the State is lagging behind. The Constitution of Pakistan gives children the right to education but 22-30 million children between the ages five to 16 are still not in education. Furthermore, the UN Committee on the CRC pointed out that 35 percent of child deaths under the age of five are caused by the lack of access to safe drinking water and malnutrition (Aziz, 2019). The Employment of Children Act 1991, was the first pro-child law passed in Pakistan, yet millions of children are found engaged in hazardous occupations, including auto workshops, brick kilns, scavenging, carpet weaving and beggary. There were a number of other laws passed by the national and provincial governments over the decades, but their adequacy and efficacy in addressing the problems faced by the children has been questionable.                

A key example is the study conducted by UNICEF in 2019, in which experts reviewed 108 child related laws in Pakistan with respect to their legal effectiveness. They found that a considerable percentage of these laws do not comply with international standards or do not conform to the criteria set by the CRC. They found that only 25 percent are fully compliant to the CRC, 41 percent are partly compliant, and 16 percent are weakly compliant, whereas 19 percent are in contradiction to the principles of the CRC. Furthermore, when it comes to the enforcement of laws, they found a considerable number of laws are not implemented at all. One of the reasons child laws are not enforced is due to lack of budget. One of the lacunas in Pakistan’s parliamentary system is that assemblies neither have time nor resources to follow up with the ‘executive’ to monitor implementation of the laws passed by them. The past and present governments in Pakistan have launched few programs to address the problems faced by undernourished poor children because of the lack of required financial and administrative support. The budgetary allocations for such programs did not correspond to the quantum of the challenge and requirements on the ground, hence their scope and impact was limited. These programs were also ad hoc and could not be sustained or scaled up (Aziz, 2019).

For example, Tawana Pakistan, a school nutrition program launched in 2002 to address poor nutritional status and school enrolment of primary school girls ended in 2005. Currently, there is no program that provides nutritional supplements for vulnerable children. The budget for education and health sectors is insufficient compared with the extensive number of people in need, especially the malnourished, poor and children out of school (Aziz, 2019). The economic issues, rising food prices, scarce energy and fuel, and consequently increasing poverty in Pakistan are all gravely concerning. The several humanitarian crises in the form of devastating floods in parts of Pakistan have caused enormous damage to the population, livelihood and infrastructure.

Furthermore, in a detrimental  move for children’s rights, Pakistan adopted the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan in 2010, handing over powers to the provinces, and recognising free, compulsory education as a fundamental right. The federal government of Pakistan is no longer responsible for child rights related legislation in the provinces, including administration and financial allocation, except in the federal territories and those areas not forming part of a province (CRM, 2015). While it was hailed as potentially improving governance in Pakistan, the transition of power has not been smooth, leading to significant confusion regarding roles and responsibilities at every level, including international commitments to the CRC. Technically, now, any child rights developments, whether stemming from domestic need or international conventions are not the responsibility of the provinces but there is currently no mechanism to ensure effective implementation or accountability (CRM, 2015). Furthermore, the National Plan of Action (NPA) for Child Protection was put in place to address child sexual abuse, exploitation, child pornography and prostitution, health, shelter, poverty, child labour, education and child morality. In a survey conducted in 2016 from media reports of 86 national, regional and local newspapers, it found that 4,139 reported cases included abduction, missing children and child marriage. The abusers were mainly acquaintances (1,765), followed by strangers (798) and in some cases, acquaintances that were developed with a stranger (589). In 2016, the Pakistan Penal Code was amended through Criminal Law Second Amendment Act 2015 to address the problems of child sexual abuse in the country. The changes included an increase in minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to ten years, and sections related to child pornography were charges under the general Pakistan Penal Code sections of rape and sodomy. This was the first of many steps required to ensure better implementation of legislation related to children (Younus & al., 2018).

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the National Commission on the Child Rights Act 2017, which was to be constituted immediately with a secretarial and a Child Rights Fund should be created without delay. The laws related to child issues passed by provinces, such as, the Punjab Destitute & Neglected Children Act 2004 should be enforced. The provinces should implement a strict monitoring system if such laws are violated in order to convict perpetrators. This article has demonstrated that most children in Pakistan are deprived of their rights as citizens and an alarming number of them are falling victim to harmful practices every year, causing countless child rights violations. Given the gravity of the situation in Pakistan, the State should be central in striving for more political will and coordination with its provinces and institutions in the oversight of legislative implementation and to honour the CRC (Aziz, 2019).

 

References

Aziz, M. A. (2019, February 27). The rights of the Pakistani child. The News International. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/437731-the-rights-of-the-pakistani-child.

Aziz, M. A. (2019, November 19). Child Rights in Pakistan. The News International. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/571443-child-rights-in-pakistan.

Berti, S. B. (2003) Rights of the Child in Pakistan: Report on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by Pakistan. World Organisation Against Torture. https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/46c190b40.pdf.

Child Rights Movement, CRM. (2015) Implementing Child Rights In Pakistan: Alternative Report For UN CRC. Child Rights Resource Centre. https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/pdf/uncrc20alternative20report20pakistan20final20june2030202015.pdf/.

Legal Rights Forum. (2020, July 12). Child rights, protection and governance. LRF. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://lrfpk.org/what-we-do/programmes/child-rights-protection-and-governance/.

Sabreen, M. S. (2017). The Age of Criminal Responsibility and its Effect on Dispensation of Justice. Pakistan Law Review, VIII, 104–122. https://pakistanlawreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/8.pdf.

Sadruddin, M. M. S. (2011). Study on the Important Issues of Child Rights in Pakistan. The Dialogue, VI(1), 13–30. https://www.qurtuba.edu.pk/thedialogue/The%20Dialogue/6_1/Dialogue_January_March2011_13-30.pdf.

Younus, S. Y., Chachar, A. S. C., & Mian, A. M. (2018). Child protection in Pakistan: Legislation & implementation. PAKISTAN JOURNAL OF NEUROLOGICAL SCIENCES, 13(2), 1–4. https://ecommons.aku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1229&context=pjns.

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