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Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child  
Founder's Message
Zainab: Same Story, Only the Faces Change

I know the virtues of positive thinking but cannot unfortunately hold on to it when it comes to Pakistan. You may get excited if you see Orange Train operating in Lahore or a major flyover or  are travelling on the Motorway but I rather think about the Zainabs and Tayyabas of Pakistan rather than these show pieces constructed with the help of borrowed money from the Chinese. The whole country is literally being run on a one-minute reactive mode. One calamity is followed by another one within days and all we get to hear are the reactions of our ruling class expressing their regrets and surprise and promising to rectify the situation in the shortest possible time. 

More than 100 male children were repeatedly sexually abused while being video-taped and then blackmailed to bring in more children and of course money if they did not want the recordings to go public. The nation expressed its disgust when the issue became public; more than 18 months have passed and no concrete measures have been taken to handle the issue. Now we have suddenly discovered Zainab as if this incident has come out of the blue. Zainab is not the first girl in Pakistan to be sexually abused and then killed and regrettably not the last one either. 

Media of course has a short attention span. New events overtake the old ones which then get buried in layers of protestations and lamentations. Our Judges have discovered a new plaything called suo motu. The media lands in the courtroom and a hearing which should not take more than a few hours lingers on for days and sometimes weeks as some start to enjoy the media attention and coverage. Even this would be palatable if something concrete comes out of it but it seldom does. Some strong remarks are made and this is about all. The politicians in power are always so engrossed in taking commissions that such developments really come as a rude shock to them which disturbs their routine of making a few hundred thousand each day.  We all love democracy but at the same time love calling upon the Chief of Army Staff to intervene even if our washing machine is not working. Resultantly, ISPR is working overtime to show military's performance in handling foreign policy, mediating amongst the politicians, catching child rapists, maintaining peace in Quetta and Karachi and helping sick children with their medical needs. Crores of people are too busy in trying to survive and make a living in this land and those who are concerned and can manage a few hours out of their busy schedule to give to public causes don their expensive dark glasses to stand in front of press clubs to hold a few placards and light a few candles in the evening to protest. 

Nothing changes. Life goes on. And as if it is a mockery, if you compare the newspaper and the TV coverage of one incident to another you will not find much of a difference. Same statements, same articles and editorials, and the same personalities expressing their `anger'. Only the faces of the victims change.

Child Rights in Sindh

Pakistan is one of those unfortunate countries where hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five years die each year. Only the lucky ones of our children reach the fifth grade; and almost half of the children are underweight. More than ten million children work in Pakistan in the age group 10-18 years alone.

The situation in the province of Sindh is no better if not worst in certain respect. This is despite the fact that there is increasing awareness about the issue of Child Rights amongst at least the law-makers in the Province but we are unfortunately not seeing a change on the ground.

When the Committee on the Rights of the Child, entrusted with the task to monitor states compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, asked the Government of Pakistan to indicate what proportion of the national, federal and provincial budget, is allocated to social expenditure for children, namely in the light of the "first call for children", Pakistan had nothing to say except that "Federal and Provincial budgets presently do not indicate separately the amounts allocated for children.” Despite ratifying the Convention in 1990, we have been unable to delineate clearly as to how much we spend for our children.When the same Committee asked the Government about the share of international assistance devoted to the implementation of the CRC the Government came up with the lame excuse that "presently there are no separate indicators showing amounts of international assistance that are devoted to implementation of CRC in the country." The situation in this respect is no different.

How can we ever implement rights of children when we don't even know as to how much we are currently spending on them? And is this difficult to ascertain?
Sindh was lucky to enact one of Pakistan’s first laws relating to the subject of Child Rights: the Sindh Children’s Act was passed in 1955 but the notification to enforce it was issued only in 1974. Despite such a long time, the law has yet to be enforced. It deals with subjects like begging, prostitution, and establishment of special homes for children. Nothing concrete has been done. Way back in 1955 it talked about establishment of juvenile courts in the Province which has not been done, although even a federal law, namely the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000, also deals with this subject.

A mechanism of establishment of certified, and industrial schools and remand homes was devised but not implemented. Homes for destitute and neglected children were to be setup, and inspectors and probation officers were to be appointed. No step was taken in this respect which shows the lack of interest of the rulers in the plight of the powerless children who have no political voice and cannot vote.

The Child Protection Authority Act was passed in 2011 which dealt with appointment of the Sindh Child Protection Authority which was meant to act as a policy-making and a monitoring body on all issues relating to Child Rights. The Authority was notified after a delay of few years but is lying dormant and has not been able to accomplish much. Committees, advisors and child protection officers were to be appointed under it which has not been done.

The Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2013 was passed which replaced the 2001 Sindh Compulsory Primary Education Ordinance which was never implemented. Unfortunately, no concrete steps have been taken to get this 2013 law enforced which can bring about a positive change as it talks of providing free and compulsory education to all children in Sindh regardless of sex or race up to the age of 16 years. However, the Education Advisory Council under it has not been notified and curriculum to be adopted under it has yet to be introduced. In March this year, the Sindh Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Act was passed which is really commendable and the first of its kind in the country. It says that a child has the right to be shown respect for his or her personality and individuality and shall not be made subject to corporal punishment or any other humiliating or degrading treatment. Contravention is punishable under the provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Similarly, Sindh is Pakistan’s only province which has introduced a uniform age for marriage for both the sexes, namely 18 years by enactment of the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013.

Child labor is a major problem in the province, like other regions of the country, due to poverty. There are several laws, such as the Factories Act 1934, the Shops and Establishments Ordinance 1969 and the Mines Act 1923, dealing with the subject both at the federal and provincial level but almost all deal with the menace in the formal sector and fail to cover the informal one where bulk of child labor is, particularly in the rural areas and in sectors such as children employed in our homes and self-employed ones. Recently, the Assembly passed the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act which repealed the federal Employment of Children Act but basically is its replica and leaves lot to be desired. It interestingly retains the minimum age of employment as 14 years which conflicts with the age for provision of free and compulsory education to all children in the Province; this is yet another reflection of the lack of coordination amongst the various provincial departments.

The above shows that some mechanism exists in the province to handle most of the aspects relating to Child Rights, although they leave lot to be desired. However, not a single of these laws are being implemented. Blaming the governments and our rulers will unfavorably get us nowhere. We all should endeavor to bring about a change. A cultural change is required: success depends on whole societies and not just the government. We all should understand and participate in actions that promote and protect Child Rights. This is not impossible and can be strived through mass media, local organizations, and other instruments for getting new information and values into local communities and households. Strategy is social mobilization involving participation of both governmental and non-governmental elements. The way a society treats children reflects not only its qualities of compassion and protective caring but also its sense of justice, its commitment to the future and its urge to enhance the human condition for coming generations.

A Child Employed is a Future Destroyed

Our society has suddenly discovered Tayyaba, a ten year old girl, who was brutally tortured by none other than the wife of Additional Sessions & District Judge of Islamabad, God knows how many times and for what. The “what” part is easier to answer: Tayyaba is poor and it is the right of everybody who is anybody to make suffer souls like her, and of course nothing happens to the tormentors.

Is it the first time that such an incident has taken place in Pakistan? Thousands of child domestic workers are beaten each day in our households, and millions of children work while we hardly spend a second thinking about them. Many of them have been tortured to death by their employers but not a single one of them has ever been prosecuted, what to talk of punished for the offense.

Tayyabas of Pakistan deserve better. Millions of households all over the country are employing under-18 children. Ain’t they all guilty of the same crime, although many continue to justify it on grounds of helping the poor child? Child labor is generally legally permissible in the country, due to big loopholes in the relevant legislations. Employment of all children in the age group 14 to 18 years is allowed in all sectors whether formal or informal. There are few areas in the formal sector that prohibit child labor under 14 years, and it is legally allowable in a few sectors with certain restrictions. And then comes the big sectors, like domestic child labor, agricultural labor, and self-employed children, which remain totally unregulated.

The media has thankfully picked on the Tayyaba case as it has done with similar cases in the past, and hopefully will stick to the issue till something positive comes out of this tragedy. A section of the civil society has also been galvanized. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has taken notice of the matter. One only hopes that some good will come out of Tayyaba’s afflictions.

It has repeatedly been pointed out to both the federal and provincial governments that the scope of child labor laws needs to be urgently broadened, and the big gaps in them plugged. All kinds of projects dealing with domestic child labor have been launched; fancy reports based on surveys prepared; and they all are now gathering dust. Child laborers of this country do not need more projects. What we desire and need is action on the part of the Government of Pakistan, and the Provincial Governments.

Ideally, Pakistan should have a law governing not just domestic child labor but domestic labor in general. This is the most neglected field as labor employed in people’s households are secluded and thus do not exist as a group are difficult to reach and to be counted. They do domestic chores including cooking, caring for children and running errands at meager salaries and work on totally unregulated hours with no weekly days off. Quite a few of them, particularly the children, live in deplorable conditions. This is the invisible workforce of Pakistan, and it is high time that a national law and if the political will is missing, then at least provincial laws wherever there is interest, should be enacted within this year.

Pakistan’s Constitution only prohibits child labor below the age of 14 years in factories, mines, or hazardous employment. The latter term remains undefined but one can argue that child domestic work falls into this category. Additionally, the Factories Act 1934 prohibits under-14 employment in factories; the Mines Act 1923 in mines; and the Shops & Establishments Ordinance 1969 in offices and restaurants.

The Employment of Children Act 1991 has a schedule with two parts that lists 38 sectors where employment of under-14 is prohibited. Domestic child labor can easily be added by the Federal and Provincial Governments to this Schedule to make it outlawed. The contravention of this ban in the 1991 Act is punishable with imprisonment extending up to one year, or with fine going up to Rs 20,000, or with both.

It is about time that all the concerned authorities, and the relevant stakeholders, including the employers, parents, media and even the children, realize that `A Child Employed is a Future Destroyed.’ Poverty may be a major cause of child labor but poverty is also caused by child labor. A child who fails to go to school will end up working in menial jobs without learning any major skills all his life and will consequently remain poor. The vicious cycle of poverty will thus continue to be perpetrated. State intervention is required to break this cycle, and the sooner we do it, the more Tayyabas we are able to save.


Honor Killing & the New Amendments

On October 6, 2016, the Parliament in a joint session passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offenses in the name or pretext of Honor) Act, 2016. The law comes into force once signed by the President of Pakistan; it however fails to state if it applies to the whole of Pakistan or not.


The Government of Pakistan and many of the law-makers claim that the amendments carried out by the law have made the crime of honor killing punishable with more stringent punishment.


A new definition has been added in section 299 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 (No XLV), after clause (e) which in relevant part says the following:


" (ee) "fasad-fil-arz" includes……….. if the offence has been committed in the
name or on the pretext of honor".


In other words, this term "fasad-fil-arz” is referring to honor killing. This new definition has been taken from the previous explanation to section 311 of the PPC which has been substituted.


The problem with this new Act arises when one looks at the substitution of section 311 in the PPC by a new one. The substitution reads as follows:


"311. Ta'zir after waiver or compounding of right of qisas in qatl-i-amd.
Where all the wali do not waive or compound the right of qisas, or if the principle of fasad-fil-arz is attracted, the court may, having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, punish an offender against whom the right of qisas has been waived or compounded with death or imprisonment for life or imprisonment of either description for a term of which may extend to 14 years as ta'zir:


Provided that if the offense has been committed in the name or on the pretext of honor, the punishment shall be imprisonment for life".


The way I interpret the above new Section is to mean that where all the walis (defined under section 299(m)) do not waive or compromise the right of qisas (defined under section 299(k)), the court may punish the offender with death or imprisonment for life, or imprisonment extending to 14 years as tazir (defined under section 299(l)).


The Government claims that the proviso in the new section 311 means that life imprisonment is compulsory if honor killing is involved. Incidentally, the language in both the new and old section 311 proviso is the same except that the words “imprisonment for life” replaced the words “the imprisonment shall not be less than ten years.” The problem is that it is no where stated in either the new or the old section 311 that the proviso automatically applies if and when honor killing is involved. I interpret it to mean that if all the walis do not waive or compromise the right of qisas (in other words, lack of unanimity), then the court can punish an offender with death or life imprisonment. However, the proviso means that if the offense is that of honor killing, then the punishment shall be life imprisonment; in other words, it CANNOT be death if there is lack of unanimity.


In the event of unanimity by the Walis, section 311 shall NOT apply.


Some may argue on the presence of the word “OR” before the words “if the principle of fasad-fil-arz is attracted” in the first line of section 311 and say that the section deals with two separate eventualities, namely waiver by walis and honor killing. Even if one presumes this interpretation to be correct, the proviso to section 311 still does not say that life imprisonment for honor killing is compulsory.


There are a few other amendments to the PPC sections but they are not relevant to the above discussion. If the law-makers wanted to make life imprisonment compulsory for honor killing, all they had to do was to state the same. Section 311 should have been modified to only deal with the question waiver by the walis or compounding the offense.


A new section in the PPC should have been inserted in the PPC clearly stating that honor killing could not be waived by the walis and the offense was not compoundable; alternatively, even if waiver was to be given for whatever reasons, it could have been said that the minimum punishment for honor killing shall remain imprisonment for life. Such an approach would have made the law clearer; would have made the task of the courts easier while interpreting the new amendments, and could have made it easier for the public to comprehend the law.

A Question of Honor

16-year old Ambreen was dragged out of her house by one Sardar Saeed on the night of April 29 in the Makol village near the town of Dunga Gali located in distrct Abbottabad in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Her father was not home as he was a daily laborer in Karachi, a city hundreds of miles away; her mother was told not to resist as otherwise her entire family could be burnt alive in their home. Saeed then dragged Ambreen to another home, where she was drugged, doused in petrol and set ablaze inside a Suzuki van in an attempt to show that it was an accident. Ambreen burnt to death.


You must be thinking that Sardar Saeed must have been a courageous fellow to do this. But you may also wonder as to what was Ambreen’s fault that she had to pay for it with her life. Well, she helped her friend to leave the village with her boy friend and the latter couple subsequently got married. This may not be such a serious offense in some parts of the world but it is a crime punishable with death in our country. Is it Islamic? I don’t think so as many in Northern India react in the same manner, and sometimes hundreds are killed simply because a girl was teased by a member of another community, as happened last year in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh.

But why don’t the women react in the same manner when a boy absconds with a girl? It is considered a feather in the boy’s cap if he succeeds in convincing the girl of his love overtures.


The girl has no say in the matter: she is the property of the male members of her family who works all the time for them but at the same time she represents their honor. May be she would love to do without the honor if the males in the household help her with the daily chores. But she is never consulted. In fact, she should ideally be not seen by anyone, except her close male kindred and of course other females. Some go to the extent of not even putting her name on the tombstone and the dead female is identified by the name of her male relations: wife of Mr x or daughter of Mr y.


You may find all of this quite impressive. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy does not think so; so she made a documentary `A Girl in the River’ which recently won an Oscar. The documentary was recently shown to an audience constituting of boys and girls in a prominent college in Peshawar in the same KP province where Ambreen was killed. The male students started cheering and clapping when the father killed his own daughter, because she had married a person of her choice.


It must be a very conservative society, you may rightly think, consisting of pious individuals who hold the women in such high esteem. The girls however are continuously teased and harassed on their way to school and college and many thus drop-out for this very reason. Males never lose a chance to pinch or fondle them whenever they get a chance. Google says that Pakistan is the country with the second highest number of hits on pornographic sites, after Saudi Arabia.


Pakistan since its independence has been producing movies and dramas and probably has not produced a single one which does not involve a love story. The boy and girl fall in love; most of the time they succeed in getting married but at times in happens in a tragedy where both commit suicide.


Now this is a classic case of turning the nation into a schizophrenic one. When girls and boys watch television, look at movies and listen to songs, they only come across the love theme. When they practice it, they are burnt alive.


The West is perturbed by this phenomenon of `honor killing.’ It cannot take over governance in the country so it compensates it by doling out dollars, pounds and Euros in billions to change this. Billions have been spent but result is what Ambreen experienced in the sizzling van that April night.


The police, the judiciary and the other relevant authorities, read about a girl leaving home with a boy which we call eloping, and all feel proud that their sister and daughter is still around them serving tea to the family members. They are thankful to Allah that their training has paid off. The girls of their family will marry where they are told to do so. Their `honor remains intact’.

Children at Brick Kilns

In January 2016, the Punjab Government enacted a law titled the Punjab Prohibition of Child Labor at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016 (No V). The law defines a child to be someone who is under the age of 14 years. Section 5 of the Ordinance prohibits an occupier who is defined as the owner of a brick kiln from employing, engaging or permitting a child to work at the brick kilns.


Even if a child over the age of five years is found at the brick kiln during school timings, he shall, until the contrary is proved, be considered to have been employed, engaged or permitted to work at the brick kiln (section 6); and the occupier of the brick kiln shall be held to be responsible for such contravention (section 7). The Inspector appointed under the Ordinance has the power to seal a brick kiln for a maximum of seven days if it appears to him that a child has been engaged on work or found at a brick kiln in contravention of sections 5 and 6 of the Ordinance, or if the occupier fails to comply with any direction under section 18 which gives the Provincial Government to issue such directions to an occupier as may be necessary for the effective enforcement of the Ordinance.


If any question arises as to the age of any person who is employed, permitted to work or found at a brick kiln, the person shall be presumed to be a child unless the contrary is proved through the computerized national identity card or registration certificate (Form B) with NADRA or the birth certificate issued by the competent authority. The burden lies on the occupier to prove that any person found or working at the brick kiln is not a child.


Contravention of the above provisions is liable to punishment with simple imprisonment extending to six months but which cannot be less than seven days and fine which may extend to Rs 500,000 but which cannot be less than Rs 50,000.


The conditions at the brick kilns are harsh and the people working there are poorest of the poor. Any step taken by the Government to help them, including their children, is thus a welcoming step. It is known to everyone, as stated in the preamble of the Ordinance as well, that the environment at a brick kiln is hazardous for children, adversely affecting their growth, health and education.


However, it remains unclear as to what prompted the Government of the Punjab to take this urgent action in the form of an Ordinance which can remain in force only up to a maximum of 90 days. After all, the law prohibiting bonded labor has been on the statute books since 1992 in the form of the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act.  The latter law has already been adopted for the Province by the Punjab Bonded Labor System (Abolition) (Amendment) Act 2012 (No XXIV).


The fact is that there was no need to enact a separate law; all the above provisions dealing with the employment of children at brick kilns could easily have been incorporated in the Punjab Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. Some of the other provisions of the Ordinance are already present in the 1992 Act as adopted in the Punjab in 2012. If there was a need to modify any provision, it easily could have been done in the existing laws, including enhancing the punishment for employing child labor.


The intention of the law-makers for enacting this Ordinance is good. The only thing that I am advocating here is that there is absolutely no need to have a separate law, and the provisions of the Ordinance dealing with child labor can be incorporated in the existing 2012 Punjab law. Modifications can also be made to the existing law.


Most importantly, the Ordinance recognizes that the environment at a brick kiln is hazardous for children. There is no reason than for any children below the age of 18 years to be employed at a brick kiln. It is thus crucial that the age of employment at brick kilns should be raised to 18 from the current age of 14 years mentioned in the Ordinance. Incidentally, such change will be in conformity with the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor to which Pakistan is a signatory; and also with article 25-A of the Constitution which makes it a fundamental right of each Child to be given free and compulsory education up to the age of 16 years, and not 14 years as stated in the Ordinance.


Ignorance of law is not an excuse but laws should not be turned into a bottomless pit, making it difficult for a common man to comprehend and thus follow them; it also leads of corruption. This is particularly so in the case of brick kilns where most folks associated with them, including the owners, are illiterate. And lastly, please implement the laws dealing with child labor, including those dealing with bonded labor, as it is as important as making new laws.



The author is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; and a founder member of SPARC – Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.