The Dismal State of Child Rights in Pakistan


By Justice (R) Ali Nawaz Chowhan, Chairman National Commission for Human Rights

Respect for human rights begins with the way that a community treats its children. Children's rights cannot be separated from human rights because children are the future generation. It is a matter of grave concern that Pakistan has been placed at the low position of 154th out of 182 countries in the global ranking on child rights, lower than Iran (100), Bangladesh (113), India (120), Sri Lanka (129), Myanmar (130), and even Nepal (139). This global index is predominantly based on indicators relating to health, education and protection of children in these countries.

The current situation of children in Pakistan is not encouraging at all as 24% of Pakistani population lives below poverty line with a large number of children who ultimately become the first victims of poverty. According to a report, nearly 45 percent of children in Pakistan are malnourished which results in stunted growth of the brain.

Nearly 30 years after Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), no integrated child protection case management and referral system - as aligned with international standards -- has been established. Only a third of Pakistani children under five are registered and, amongst the poorest and most marginalized, this figure drops to 5 per cent.^1^ Children born to non-Pakistani parents are not registered at all. As a result, access and service delivery to the most marginalized children is significantly hampered.

Article 25-A of Pakistan's Constitution guarantees the right of every child to education whereas Article 25 (3) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan recognizes special right of protection for children due to their vulnerability.

Every person below the age of 18 years is a child under the UNCRC. Over 47 percent of the total population of Pakistan consists of children less than 18 years of age. The UNCRC made it obligatory for the States ratifying the Convention to take all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights enshrined in the Convention.

Over the past several decades, the position of children in society has changed with increasing recognition of children's rights, international instruments like Convention on the Rights of Child have imposed immeasurable responsibility on the states to promote and protect the rights of the child. Pakistan being a party to this convention, is bound to abide by the commitments made at the UN level to protect and promote the right of the child. Pakistan signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child that focuses on making and enacting laws that would protect the rights of a child but the government does not pay heed to include the rights of street children in their policies. Nearly 30 years after Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), no integrated child protection case management and referral system - as aligned with international standards - has been established.

Out of the total 51.53 million children between the age of five and 16, as many as 22.84m - 44pc--- are out of school, according to the 2015-16 report, there were 22.63m out of school children.^2^. More girls are out of school than boys. In primary to higher secondary level, 49pc of the population of girls are out of school compared to 40pc of the population of boys.^3^ These numbers are embarrassing for Pakistan, which now sits at the second spot in UNICEF rankings for having the most out-of-school children worldwide. Punjab is now considered as the province with the most out-of-school children worldwide.

The multiple school system classifying the schools for the elite class children, the English medium schools sprouting in streets catering middle class children and the public schools that cater the low-income group only 71% of children attend primary school.

The government only allocates 1.8% of its national budget to education, which is clearly insufficient considering the need. The difficulties of public education are numerous: economic constraints, dangerous buildings, lack of toilets, chairs, tables, desks, recurring humanitarian crises, while teachers are under-qualified, it is not uncommon for children to leave school without knowing how to read or write.

According to the independent estimates, a large number of children still constitute a significant part of the labour force in Pakistan. Legislation relating to child employment are still not aligned with Article 25-A of the Constitution which gives each child a right to education and the employment of children remains unaddressed.

A large number of these children are employed through an informal economy in the street, through private structures or through homes and parents, which also deprives them of any form of safety and recognition.

Denying children their fundamental right to be educated between the ages of five to 16 exposes them to health hazards, hampers their development and puts them at risk to other forms of violence, which may also be physical, psychological and sexual.

The first and only survey of child labour in Pakistan was conducted in 1996 and found that approximately 3.3 million children aged 5-14 years were economically active and that nearly half of them worked more than 35 hours a week. 22 years since the survey, no comprehensive information on child labour was collected.

There are around 11 million children performing domestic tasks and working in agriculture, the textile industry specifically weaving carpets, construction labour, motor garages, fruit and vegetable markets carrying heavy load at distances.

Children in carpet factories sometimes work up to 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. This puts a considerable strain on their health, they work in very cramped conditions and in places detrimental to their growth causing respiratory problems, vision problems, or even deformations of the spinal cord due to a constant forward bending posture while weaving.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests that poverty is the greatest single cause behind child labour. Pakistan has a ++per-capita income++ of approximately $1900, a middle-class person in Pakistan earns around $6 a day on average. The average Pakistani has to feed nine or ten people with their daily wage. There is also a high inflation rate that adds to misery of the poor.

The number of street children in ++Pakistan++ is estimated to be between 1.2 million^4^ to 1.6 million.^5^ These include 'runaway' children who live or work on the street, as well as the few that return to their families at the end of the day with their meager earnings.

The trend of having large number of children in poor families is based on the concept of multiple earning hands, this creates a cadre of street children belonging to families who in search of economic opportunities have moved to urban or suburban cities.

Around 90% of the 170,000 street children in Pakistan are subjected to the sex trade, and it is estimated that only 20% of sexual abuse cases are reported. 60% of young victims accuse the police of being the perpetrator. Such marginalized children are significantly hampered in their growth as normal citizens deprived of all sorts of social services in terms of education, health , protection etc.

Natural disasters and internal displacement have a heavy toll on security of children there is a troubling increase in cases of selling and kidnapping of children in order to force them to beg, serve and even prostitute. This situation also gives rise to cases of forced child marriage of minor girls as parents consider it appropriate to shed off responsibility from their shoulders to someone else who, they consider more appropriate for the security of the girl child.

The issue rose to prominence when in 2015, The Nation newspaper reported that a gang running a paedophile and pornography ring assaulted more than 280 children, extorting significant sums from family members by threatening to "dishonour" them through releasing videos of their young relatives being assaulted and forced to perform sex acts.

In 2017, a total of 129 cases of child assault were reported from Kasur alone. Of them, 34 were abductions, 23 were rapes, 19 sodomy, 17 attempted rapes, six abduction and rapes, and four abduction and gang-rapes.

Rapid measures need to be taken to alleviate the situation of child rights in Pakistan. An education emergency must be implemented to put 22.8 million out school children in school. Infrastructure of government schools must be improved and a training mechanism for government school teachers must be set up in order to raise the quality of education. A concrete framework of action must be adopted to deal with issues such as malnutrition, infant mortality and preventable diseases in a sustainable way. Ensure the right of each and every child to be registered; revise procedures to make sure that newborn children receive a birth certificate and that in particular children from marginalized and vulnerable groups have easy access to the registration procedures; establish an effective and cost-free procedure, which provides a birth certificate for all children up to age 18, who have not yet a birth certificate.

The provinces should undertake child labour surveys to assess the magnitude of underage employment in their territories. This can be instrumental in coming up with effective policies to counter child labour in Pakistan.

Public awareness campaigns must be carried out to provide information, parental guidance and counselling with a view, including, to prevent child abuse and neglect, provide additional training to teachers, law enforcement officials, social workers and prosecutors.

Law enforcement officials especially police must be provided special training to deal with cases of child sexual assault. Data should be collected of the homeless and street children and shelter houses must be built countrywide.

© 2020, All rights reserved.