In Pakistan, the most pervasive forms of violence against children include neglect, corporal punishment meted out in schools, seminaries and households; child sexual abuse, acid attacks on girls, child marriages, killing and suicide, kidnapping and trafficking and recruitment of children in armed conflict.
The government has formulated a number of policies to counteract the various forms of violence against children. However, the policy initiatives undertaken by the government remain ineffective in face of a weak implementation regime. Furthermore, efforts to formulate an all encompassing policy to counteract violence against children are hampered by the absence of a reliable quantitative information base which would highlight the forms and magnitude of the problem in Pakistan.
Neglect is one of the most common forms of abuse of children. Neglect of children can be intentional or unintentional and may exist at multiple levels. For instance, parents may neglect their children by showing a lack of interest in their activities or by not allowing them to address their grievances which may contribute to delinquency and child suicides. Similarly, at a higher level the state may fail to formulate and implement child friendly policies and practices which may result in neglect of children at state level.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines ‘corporal’ or ‘physical’ punishment as any punishment in which physical force is used to cause some degree of pain and discomfort however light. Most involves hitting (‘smacking’, ‘slapping’, ‘spanking’) children with the hand or with items such as a whip, shoe, belt, stick and so on.
The use of corporal punishment on children is rampant across Pakistan; in workplaces, homes and educational institutions. In this context, a large number of cases are reported from educational institutions (public/ private schools and madrassahs) where corporal punishment is institutionally ingrained. However, in spite of considerable evidence on the harmful impact of corporal punishment, teachers in schools and madrassahs across Pakistan continue to use it as a tool for disciplining children.
Government Initiatives: Addressing Corporal Punishment in Schools
The Punjab government banned corporal punishment in provincial schools in 2005. However, government authorities failed to implement the ban effectively. In June 2011, the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) partnered with Plan Pakistan to set up complaint boxes and committees of parents, teachers and students in 2,500 schools of the province.
The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa banned corporal punishment in educational institutions in 1999. In December 2011, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa established Child Protection Units in 8 districts of the province under the Child Protection and Welfare Act (2010).
The Government of Sindh banned corporal punishment in schools under the Sindh Education Code. Moreover in 2006, the Sindh Secretary of Education issued a separate directive to prohibit the practice of corporal punishment in the provincial educational institutions. However, both the code and the directive remained ineffective on the implementation front. In December 2011, the Government of Sindh initiated a legislative intervention to address the growing prevalence of corporal punishment in schools.
The Government of Balochistan banned corporal punishment in schools through a directive issued in 2010. However, the provincial government has so far failed to take any effective legal and administrative measures to address the issue. Child rights activists in the province have called for actions by the provincial government to curb the prevalence of corporal punishment in the educational institutions of Balochistan.
Dearth of Government Regulation: Corporal Punishment in Madrassahs
Regulations to register madrassahs came into effect in 2005 when religious seminaries were obligated to register with the Government of Pakistan under the Societies Registration Act 1869. In spite of considerable amendments in the registration laws, it is estimated that a large number of madrassahs remain unregistered. In this context, government laws regarding prevention of corporal punishment remain unenforced in religious seminaries. This lack of government regulation makes madrassah students increasingly vulnerable to violence and abuse.
Child Sexual Abuse
As in many parts of the world, child sexual abuse remains rampant across Pakistan. However, the current legal underpinnings are inadequate for administrative action against child abusers.
There are no explicitly formulated, specialized laws for the prevention of child sexual abuse in Pakistan. Sexual abuse of children is recognized as a form of violence in the clauses of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 1860. In this context, any form of consent given by a child (under twelve years of age) leading to sexual contact with an adult is invalid under Section 90 of the PPC. Furthermore, child molestation is recognized as an act for terrorism by the Anti Terrorism Act 1997.
One of the major reasons behind the failure of successive governments to enact a specialized law preventing child molestation is a lack of one definition regarding what constitutes child sexual abuse. This makes legislation on child sexual abuse a highly complex issue. Furthermore, social and familial constraints impede the arrest and prosecution of child molesters especially when the victim is sexually abused by a member of his/ her family. The enactment of effective anti child sexual abuse laws can be instrumental in curbing the instances of child sexual abuse in the country. Furthermore, educational campaigns can help in bringing the issue of child sexual abuse in the mainstream allowing for increased social sensitization on the issue.
Acid attacks have grown exponentially in Pakistan over the last couple of years. There are no reliable statistics available but experts claim that around 150 victims of acid attacks are reported from different parts of the country every year. In majority of the cases, children were victimized because they were accompanying a female who was the primary target of the attacker.
It is important to recognize the negative impact of early marriages on children. For instance, UNICEF has reported that 70,000 girls aged 15-19 die each year during pregnancy and child birth. Probability of violence and abuse increases in the case of early marriage.
In Pakistan, the legal age for marriage under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 is 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls. Though under age marriage is a punishable offence according to the Pakistan Penal Code, little has been done to enforce the law as child marriages are still rampant in major parts of the country especially in the provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan; where tribal customs bolster traditional practices such as vani, watta satta and swara.
The PROPOSED KP Child Marriage Restraint Act
The Punjab Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act 2015
Suicide and Killing
Child suicide and killing of children by family members is becoming increasingly common in Pakistan. Suicide is mostly instigated by domestic problems which place undue stress on children thereby forcing them to take their lives. Moreover, poverty and acts of impulsive nature appear as the main contributing factors resulting in the murder of children. In this context, the growing economic crisis in Pakistan has created conditions of extreme hardships for families, sometimes forcing parents to commit suicide after killing their children. Child suicide can be prevented by providing children with a platform to address their grievances especially at the household level.
Child Abduction and Trafficking
Pakistan is ranked among the top five most dangerous countries in the world for kidnap and ransom with incidents recorded in the ‘mid-to-high hundreds’ each year. The Human Rights Commission South Asia (HRCSA) reported that in 2011 alone around 7000 cases of child abduction were reported from across Pakistan. Majority of the kidnappings took place in Karachi where 3090 children were abducted in 2011. The increasing influence of militants in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA has resulted in incidents of child kidnapping in the conflict affected areas. Pakistan has also been characterized as a country with high incidence of child trafficking. The Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 declares Pakistan as a ‘source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking’.
Children in Armed Conflict
Children in Pakistan have been deeply afflicted by armed conflicts especially in the conflict ridden zones of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In this context, children were not only victims of the conflict but were also recruited as child suicide bombers by various extremist groups.
The adverse psychological impacts of conflict on children were recorded by a researcher of the Peshawar University working in the Khyber Agency. The researcher observed that women in Khyber Agency were disciplining their children by inculcating fear of the militant commander Mangal Bagh in their minds. This created an atmosphere of fear which negatively affected the psychological health of the children. Furthermore, a research indicated that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had risen exponentially among women and children living in the conflict affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.