Pakistan is signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children since 1990. The convention defines a “child” as a person below the age of 18 encouraging States to review the age if it is set below 18 and to increase the level of protection for all children under 18. For the past twenty-one days now, there has been an on-going protest with children of almost all ages being dragged to participate. Both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri while spending most of the hours in their containers come on stage and give speeches on the rights of children overlooking the truth that their rights are being violated due to the on-going sit-n.
We have clearly seen on our TV-screens, children as young as infants have been brought to these evidently non-peaceful demonstrations. The protestors have broken the gates of the Parliament House using a truck and there have been clashes between the protestors and Punjab Police resulting in the injuries of at least six children. Exposing children to this kind of violence including the use of stones, batons, rubber bullets and hazardous tear gas is a matter of serious concern. Nothing demonstrates freedom better than the ability to freely express opposition to authority, without the fear of being punished for it. However, this freedom carries a great burden of responsibility, which in the recent protest has not been taken by both the authority and the protestors to some level affecting the children the most.
In the present scenario, there have been reports of children being separated from their parents, children from Islamabad are having major issues in attending schools and have lost vital education time due to one week extension in summer break. It is still not assured if schools will even reopen on September 8 as announced by the government because the state of affairs is unpredictable for now. The government has been hosting a large number of police from Punjab, unfortunately providing them space in 57 schools as per media reports. Use of schools as hostels for police may damage education infrastructure and learning materials.
The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all things that affect children and sadly it is not being given any attention. Children’s right to survival and development to their full potential is being ignored by adults who are making decisions for them. This article does not mean to interfere with parents’ right and responsibility to express their views on matters affecting their children but the level of a child’s participation in decisions must be appropriate to the child’s level of maturity. Every child has the right to say what they think in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously.
In the on-going sit-in, children’s privacy is being violated; their right to education, health and their right to play are being ruthlessly dishonoured. Children protesters are protesting whatever their parents say, leading to a lack of independent thinking.
It is an appeal to the government, anti-government protest leaders and parents to protect children by keeping them away from all protest sites especially after the latest round of political violence. These incidents underscore the urgent need to keep children out of harm’s way in order to ensure their safety. Areas within and around the protest barriers should become “child-free zones” to ensure there are no further injuries among children and the government must ensure that those responsible for the attacks on police or by police are brought to justice.
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