Reviving Pakistan’s Parliamentary Commitments to Child Rights / A Short Report
Reviving Pakistan’s Parliamentary Commitments to Child Rights / A Short Report
Azher Hameed Qamar, PhD (www.drazher.com)
The discussion about children as independent right-holder was initiated in the West in 1924 when the League of Nations passed a declaration on protecting children. In 1970 movement about empowering children further led to a liberation-oriented approach to children’s rights. From 1979 to 1989 there were several debates on the problematic nature of children’s rights. However, in 1989 there was a consensus on The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which was based on the proposal presented by Poland in 1978. Even though the USA does not recognize UNCRC, since 1989 UNCRC is seen as a guiding document to ensure children’s rights across the globe. Focusing on constitutional amendments about children’s rights in line with UNCRC, the main concerns that UNCRC addresses are the provision, protection, and participation rights of the child.
On 19 November 2019, I attended a seminar on National Consultation on Child Rights Legislative Review where members of the Special Group of the National Parliamentary Task Force on SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) for child rights presented their ‘review report’. The honorable members of the National Assembly were representing the four provinces and the federal capital. As per the agenda I was expecting that I will hear something about what has been done; what is on its way; what are the challenges; and how they are planning to meet those challenges. As the seminar was planned in line with Universal Children’s Day (20 November), and the 30th anniversary of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), I was interested to know the situation of child rights in Pakistan in connection with UNCRC implementations. I drafted this short report on my visit to highlight what I learned and what I was eager to know but could not get. Though we are in 2023 now, observing the political instability in the country, I feel that the current situation will not be different than it was in 2019. As there was no question/answer session, in this short report I will also share the questions that I have in my mind.
On 19th November 2019, I reached PIPS (Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services) at 11:00 am as per the given timetable. However, the session begins around 12:00 (noon) with the arrival of the honorable chief guest Mr. Asad Qaiser (Speaker National Assembly). After the recitation of the Quran and National Anthem, Ms. Mehnaz Akbar Aziz (MNA, chairperson special group of the National Parliamentary Task Force on SDGs for Child Rights) gave a presentation about child rights as an important part of SDGs. In her welcome note, she highlighted the need to review the existing laws about children, and the problems we are facing (juvenile courts, children’s hospitals, out-of-school children, vulnerable children, and child labor). She mentioned that child rights are not on the political discourse and there is a lack of commitment towards the protection of children and women. She also mentioned the Pakistani parliament as the first in South Asia that is conducting a legislative review of children’s rights and leading toward Child-Friendly National Assembly 2020.
Ms. Aida Girma (UNICEF Country Representative) addressed the audience about the 30th anniversary of the Child Right Convention. She told about the serious issues related to child nutrition, education, forced early marriage, child labor, and the need to do legislation in compliance with Child Right Convention (CRC, 1989). She emphasized the SDGs agenda on human development and human rights and urged that the task force should work intensively on the provincial and regional levels.
Chief guest Mr. Asad Qaiser (Speaker National Assembly) preferred to address in Urdu language. He said that in this way he could convey the voice of his heart openly and freely. He showed his full support for children and emphasized the role of the teacher in quality education. He shared his own experience of setting up a school for the children in his village. “No child is dull or idiot” he said. He advised the audience to “think big for your people and there will be no hurdle”. He mentioned the state’s responsibility to provide equal opportunities for health and education across the country and announced that within a month an MoU will be signed with the four provinces for legislative review of child rights.
After lunch, in a panel discussion, representatives from all four provinces talked about the current situation of legislation and children’s rights. It was told that the Chief of Child Commission (approved in 2017) has not been notified yet. The situation of children’s rights is still not satisfactory and several legislations are either pending or weak or not implemented. All the panelists highlighted the issues of child mortality rate, out-of-school children, challenges in polio eradication, child labor, child poverty, and child abuse.
A representative from Baluchistan Ms. Munawara Baloch regretted the poor implementation of children’s rights legislation in Baluchistan. She said that the bureaucracy did not cooperate in implementing the existing legislation. She showed her concerns about the lack of funding resources. She told about the potential Baluchi children have and insisted UNICEF take interest in Balochi children. Ms. Munawara mentioned that some members of the provincial assembly (Baluchistan) who belong to religious political parties do not want the child marriage act to be implemented.
A representative from Sindh province Dr. Nafisa Shah (MNA) expressed with pride that province Sindh has pioneered in conducting all the legislation about children’s rights (such as settling the issues regarding the age of marriage, which is 18 years of age). Dr. Nafisa Shah said that the definition of a child is still a conceptual problem that has not been effectively addressed. “Child, as an agent or a person does not exist in Pakistan,” she said.
A representative from KP talked about the early-age school program by KP-UNICEF that is under process in KPK. KPK is still facing challenges to implement laws for child marriage, gender discrimination, and child abuse.
Ms. Nafeesa Anayatullah Khatak (from the federal) talked about the protection of newborn children. She also raised her concern about the ‘unwanted’ children who are abandoned, killed, or sold but have never been in political and social debates. In this connection, legislation is under process to register the child by the parents or other caregivers. She mentioned the lack of legislation regarding early childhood education. She pointed out the need for an awareness campaign regarding children’s protection from kidnapping and abuse. Ms. Zara Batool (from federal) said that existing laws are not implemented properly and strictly. Therefore, child abuse has been more frequent, and boys are equally vulnerable and exposed to abuse as girls are.
Dr. Nosheen Hamid (MNA, Parliamentary Secretary of Health Service) talked about the situation in Punjab and also concluded the session. “In Punjab, implementation is missing”, she said. The difference in age of the child in different legislation is problematic in defining a child. She also emphasized the rights of transgender children, reviewed legislation in line with CRC, and required budget allocation.
There were several things that I was looking forward to knowing about legislation on children’s rights in Pakistan. However, I would have been obliged if I could know about it.
· The children starving of hunger and died from dog bites in Sindh
· The child-abuse cases frequently happening in Punjab and KPK
· Who is responsible if the bureaucracy is not implementing the laws for the children’s rights
Also, I could not learn how they are going to review and implement when they have already identified the challenges and prevailing issues. Overall, the information was about what is the problem, not about how the provincial and federal government is going to solve it.
The audience consisted of individuals from different disciplines and professions. Interestingly, there was also a group of children from a well-known school in Islamabad. However, the fee of one child at this school will be equivalent to providing livelihood subsistence to three small families for the whole month. I did not see the ‘children under discussion’ present in the seminar room. I wonder why the UNICEF representative did not notice or insist on the presence of the children who were the focus of this talk. During lunch, the audience enjoyed more than ten dishes. The amount of cost on this luxurious lunch will be equivalent to providing livelihood subsistence to ten small families for the whole month.
I wish all the people on earth will contribute their skills, knowledge, time, and resources for a better world for children and the coming year will be good for children in Pakistan and worldwide.