Recently, there was a news story in a popular English daily about poor child health statistics in Islamabad as per the findings of the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2013. The story created a debate on social media and I was also approached by friends and colleagues about the state of child rights in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Pakistan’s very well planned and resourceful capital. It is quite understandable that people got worried that if health or overall child rights indicators are poor in Pakistan’s capital, what would the situation be in the rest of the country, particularly the far flung areas?
In 2010, a National Steering Committee on Child Rights was established under the ombudsman to monitor the implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children 2006 and the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the country. Being a civil society representative on the committee, I recommended to the honourable ombudsman to begin with Islamabad and see what the state of implementation of children-related laws and policies is in the capital, giving us a very good picture of the situation in the country.
If we begin with children’s right to survival and health, the PDHS 2013 reveals that children under the age of five in the ICT are severely malnourished as 22 percent of them are stunted, 13 percent are wasted and 14 percent are underweight. Meanwhile, just 74 percent, aged between 12 and 23 months, are fully vaccinated as against the 80 percent immunisation coverage recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
While having a look at children’s right to education, there is one positive development and that is the enactment of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012 by the National Assembly in accordance with Article 25-A of the constitution about the right to education for children 5 to 16 years of age. The issue, however, is that no practical steps have been taken to effectively implement this law and that is why its fate seems to be no different from the Federally Administered Areas Right to Compulsory Education Ordinance 2002. According to a recent report, approximately 65,000 children of school going age are not going to schools in Islamabad.
There is no child protection system in the ICT, which has exposed the children of the capital to various hazards including exploitation in the worst forms of child labour, use of children for begging and various other forms of child abuse. The number of children living/working on the streets has witnessed a surge in the recent past. The Child Protection and Welfare Bill 2014 is being discussed these days to put in place a proper child protection system in the ICT. Fingers crossed.
We recently commemorated International Child Labour Day where the theme for this year was the right to free and compulsory education and social protection. According to various non-governmental sources, the number of children involved in child labour is approximately one million in the country — and no visible improvements have been witnessed in the elimination of child labour. I also believe that it may not be possible to eliminate child labour only through legislation and that there is a need to focus more on implementation of the free and compulsory education laws and increased budgetary allocations for quality education together with social protection schemes for children involved in labour and girls, to ensure that they get into schools.
There is a schedule of banned occupations for children under the Employment of Children Act 1991, which require strict implementation. Furthermore, banning child domestic labour is also really important as it has proved to be one of the worst forms of child labour in Pakistan; in the ICT, there have been a number of cases of torturing to death of child domestic workers.
Like health, education, child labour and child protection, juvenile justice is another area that requires special attention on the ICT level. July 1, 2014 will mark the 14th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) 2000, a landmark legislation on juvenile justice in Pakistan. Unfortunately, however, despite various strengths, the law could not be implemented in letter and spirit due to various reasons, including the absence of necessary budgetary allocation. In order for the JJSO to be implemented, the federal government is required to allocate funds for the provision of legal assistance to children at the state’s expense, establish an exclusive juvenile court and appoint at least one male and one female probation officer for the ICT besides establishing a Borstal Institution. There is also the need for real steps for effective implementation of the provisions of the JJSO in FATA as the law had already been extended there in 2004.
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