International community, including Pakistan, celebrate 20th November, every year, as Universal Children’s Day. We are in the month of November and the celebrations of Universal Children’s day provide us an opportunity to improve welfare of our children and create larger awareness about children’s rights amongst all segments of the society.
On 20th November 1959 the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Similarly on the said date in 1989 the UN General assembly also adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The land marking UN Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) calls for joint effort by all the countries and regions to promote and protect children’s right.
The government of Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990. Indeed, it was the vision and initiative of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to protect and ensure the rights of the future generations of Pakistan.
If we examine the indicators to measure the progress achieved by Pakistan regarding Children’s Rights since the ratification of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. Indeed, the country has made considerable progress; however, disparities between rural and urban areas are clearly evident. The available social development indicators mention that children living in big cities have more access to essential services such as health care, education, adequate nutrition, clean water, sanitation and birth registration.
Children of small towns and villages are still facing basic problems such as quality education, healthcare, malnutrition or clean water. Pakistan have one of the highest levels of prevalence of child malnutrition compared to other developing counties; however, one must acknowledge the fact that there has been a little reduction in the prevalence of child malnutrition in Pakistan in last two decades.
The article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) binds state parties to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, maltreatment or exploitation. Furthermore, the responsibility to establish social programs for the prevention of violence, abuse and treatment of victims also rests upon the shoulders of the state.
Media reports acknowledge that children are also affected by or at risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. The Kasur child sexual abuse scandal was occurred in Hussain Khanwala village in Kasur District, Punjab. According the details of the scandal more than 100 male children were repeatedly sexually abused while being video-taped and then blackmailed the victims. The horrific rape and murder of Zainab Ansari also in Kasur has literally stunned the citizens of Pakistan, triggering scenes of protests in some parts of the country.
These above mentioned victims of violence and sexual abuse were neither the first victim of such brutality nor the last one either. The magnitude and reporting of the cases of violence, abuse or exploitation of children have been increased in recent years. It is encouraging that government, civil society, media and common people have realized the sensitivity of situation. All relevant stakeholders are agreed to design and develop an effective and accountable child protection systems in the country.
Child protection is the prevention and respond mechanism which aims to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse. Therefore, there is a need to develop child protection programs primarily targets the most vulnerable and unguarded children of the society.
As a signatory of UN CRC, the government is responsible to establish child protection systems that can effectively prevent and address the protection of children from abuse, exploitation and other forms of violence.
Over the period of past several years all four provinces of the country have made efforts in developing public child protection systems. The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan also introduced specific child protection legislation including the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010, Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011 and the Balochistan Child Protection Act 2016. Whereas the “Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act” was promulgated in 2004 and revised in 2007.
All the specific legislations on child protection have provided a roadmap to design systems that can effectively protect the rights of the most vulnerable children. However, increasing number of violence and abuse cases recognize the fact that child protection legislations and programs fall short to achieve the desired goals.
On the occasion of Universal Children’s Day there is a need to revisit the special laws, policies and programs that aim to protect children from violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse. The revised legislation should underline its conviction to build a society that is free from violence and abuse of children.
A collaborative approach to safe the children in all settings is essentially required. Government departments, primarily Police, Social Welfare Department, Child Protection Authority or Child Welfare Commission, should involve children, parents, teachers, NGOs. CBOs, communities and line departments to prevent and respond to the cases of child abuse.
There is a need to establish an effective complaint mechanism that allows children and common citizens to make confidential complaints, without any fear. The redressal mechanism should ensure that all complaints are thoroughly investigated and swiftly responded. Furthermore, child protection authorities should develop a viable referral mechanism at local, provincial and national level. It is high time that government should invest in building children’s capacity through inclusion of child-protection-awareness material in schools’ syllabus and induction of child protection professionals in schools.
By: Amir Murtaza