The State of Pakistan’s Children. , SPARC has been producing this for 18 years now. Kudos to the Research team!! I asked them how they have managed to stay mentally stable while compiling the data and more significantly analyzing it. Because just while reviewing and editing the draft, I could not sleep for weeks. And how could I after reading of 493 cases of violence against children? How could we forget the horrific cases of child sexual abuse that came out of Kasur last year and which prompted the national government to enact legislation that had been pending for years? Does this mean that we have to wait for a catastrophe of this magnitude to formulate the initial stages of the legislation that could have some potential to protect our children? It is sad that only after extreme tragedy does the government wake up to the reality of the state of child rights in Pakistan. And we continue on arguing about the exact number of victims, whether it was 19 or 284 over a period of almost a decade. I wonder how long as a nation we will take to understand that even if there was even one single victim of such a heinous crime, extreme measures needed to be taken. Because damage to one child has a ripple effect that ends up damaging families generation after generation.
So now what? Where to start from? Where do we stand as a nation in terms of providing our children a better future? I leave it to you. But here I would like to avail the opportunity to encourage you to evaluate for yourself where we stand? Are we going back on the scale of the progress or even unfortunately moving backwards? Let’s start with the MDGs. The year 2015 marked the end of Pakistan’s commitment to achieving its MDGs. So Pakistan seems to have re-interpreted the term MDG as Missed Development Goals. Since the acronym included the term ”Missing”, we assumed that those goals were meant to be missed. No blame on us period. We missed the education target, we missed the health target, we missed the reduction of child labour target. Then just a month after as a consequence of our shameful lack of capacity and political will to meet the MDG targets, we failed in our bid for re-election to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Oct 2015.
Throughout the year, Pakistan did not become signatory to any of the international convetions that could have an important bearing on the promotion and protection of child rights. In 2015, Pakistan even dropped the ratification of the UNCRC Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. In addition, no steps were taken to sign and ratify ILO’s convention which could be the first step towards banning child domestic labour in all its forms in Pakistan.
There are various bills pertinent to the protection of children in our country that are pending in the national legislature, such as the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill, the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment ) Bill and the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill. Let me remind you all of a horrendous incident in which a grade nine student in Khi Sindh was left permanently deaf after his teacher tortured him in school. So that’s the cost we will be asked to pay in the absence of the implementation of the Corporal Punishment Legislation. And this is just one of the very few reported cases. We all acknowledge that.
Where are our priorities:?
The country’s last child labour survey was conducted in 1996 and since then no concrete efforts have been made to enumerate the number of children employed in the formal and informal sectors.
It is reported frequently, that the number of out of school children… is 25 million. Do we ever imagine what that means as a proportion of the total population? According to a 2013 UNICEF report, the estimated number of children in Pakistan is around 73 million 854 thousand. By simple calculation one third of our total children population is out of school. That means, whenever you see three children together anywhere, there is a possibility that one of them is not going to school.
Let’s talk about health. Pakistan is comparable only to Afghanistan, a war-torn country for decades. With the rest of the developing countries in south Asia, we have no comparison at all. Our infant mortality rate is 7%, that is out of every 100 births 7 children die. Yes, Pakistan has made a significant move on lessening the number of polio cases in the country, which have fallen to 54 cases by the end of 2015 as compared to 306 cases in 2014, but it is not eradicated as yet. Anddo we realise that each of these 54 cases is a threat to millions of people not only in our country but to the rest of the world as well, where polio has been completely eradicated for years, even in the poorest regions of the world? And what commitment and surety of protection is evident given yesterday’s event of a fatal attack on the police officers protecting polio workers? What future do we foresee in terms of the eradication of polio here?
There have been several debates, pieces of proven research and unanimously agreed propositions that a child’s mental developmental needs are far different from that of an adult, thus children are to be treated entirely differently in all scenarios. The acts of a child are a result of the acts of an adult’s influence. But knowing and recognizing this it is highly regrettable that children continue to be arrested for petty offences, illegally detained for days and even months, kept alongside adult prisoners, including hardened criminals and extremist militants. So are we really working on decreasing the juvenile criminals or we are in fact, making sure that children of today who make mistakes due to their unfortunate upbringing and life circumstances, shall become professional, hardened terrorists and criminals in the near future? 14 years after its promulgation, successive governments have failed to implement the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance in letter and spirit.
I think the answers to all these child-related issues lie in what a renowned gentleman from the development sector said a few days ago in a seminar, that children have never been a priority of any government in the past and apparently not in the present. Had they been the governments’ priority since the creation of Pakistan, had there been a political will with regard to the well-being of children, had there been a No Compromise policy of governments on the safety of children, we would not still be fighting and arguing about enacting basic human rights and child rights bills such as the child marriage restraint act, the appropriate age of marriage, the corporal punishment bill, the juvenile justice system ordinance, protecting children from bonded labour. I wonder when we will start realizing this is a priority? Are we waiting until it affects people like us? Or do we assume that such issues will never affect children of people like us? But I think we are terribly wrong. The incident of APS is the most recent and shockingly obvious example of that. It did hit people like us. People who thought they were safe, that it would never happen to them.
SPARC would like to use this platform to present three simple and doable recommendations in view of the dismal state of our children:
1. The Government should develop uniform national and provincial strategies to help the increasing number of street children who are the most vulnerable group of society and exposed to all sorts of abuse. We recommend an introduction of a national level initiative of “No Child Left on the Streets” to be introduced on an emergency basis.
2. Immeditately and urgentlyenact all the pending child protection related bills and fully implement them in letter and spirit.
3. Become a signatory of all existing international commitments on the issue of child rights and protection so that all successive governments are internationally accountable and legally bound to exert themselves to make this dream of our children’s well-being come true.
I very frequently quote Dr. Mahatir Mohammad, former PM of Malaysia when he was once asked to state in a single sentence the secret behind Malaysia’ track record of transformation from rags to riches. One day he stood up and announced to his nation that “we will tie stones to our stomach, go on starving, but we will invest in the future of our children.” He was able to convince the majority of his nation and in no time, Malaysia was out of the poverty cycle. That is the kind of priority is the need of the hour in our country. I hope through this discussion, SPARC is able to make its point clear on the significance of our children’s well-being. Thank you again.