The social disparity prevalent in Islamabad, and to a certain extent the entire country, was evident as two economically disparate groups of children observed the Universal Children’s Day in their own ways.
Children from well-off families gathered at the National Library in the Red Zone on the final day of the European Union’s National Child Right Arts Festival to attend a seminar and two plays, one on child abuse and labour, and the other on victims of acid crimes.
Those from disadvantaged backgrounds had something much simpler in mind. They gathered at F-6 Markaz and marched to the National Press Club with candles in their hands.
Wearing shabby clothes and holding placards, candles and umbrellas in their hands, the children stood outside the press club asking for their fundamental right to education as guaranteed under Article 25-A of the Constitution. The article guarantees education to children up to high school. The rally was organised by Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE).
PCE National Coordinator Zehra Arshed said, “Our major demands include immediate enactment of Article 25-A throughout Pakistan…Civil society should be engaged in formulating comprehensive legislation, implementation and monitoring. The media should also play its role to highlight this important issue and build momentum around it, and the Supreme Court should take suo motu action to get millions of children in schools.”
Earlier, Unesco representative Roshan Chitrakar underlined the need for effective planning, enhancement of the education budget and involvement of the community in educational planning for improving education standards.
The Unesco representative said that after the devolution of education to the provinces, it is the responsibility of provincial governments to allocate maximum funds to ensure quality education.
Lahore University of Management Sciences Associate Professor Dr Faisal Bari said that no regulatory body exists in the country to check the education standards, which is key to improving quality.
He said that due to the poor standard of public sector schools, 35 to 40% of children go to private sector schools. He also pointed out that despite the presence of Article 25-A, around 25 million children between the ages of five and 16 are not enrolled in schools. He said that there is no concept of minimum quality of education in the country, and that missing facilities in schools are also a key factor in the school dropout rate.
Analyst and Journalist Amir Zia pointed out that a number mistakes, misprints and bias materials still exist within the syllabus, which misguide the students, particularly at young age.
The seminar at the national library focused on the poor legislation for children’s rights, which results in children becoming victims of physical and mental violence in Pakistan. Well-known puppeteer and TV artist Farooq Qaiser and cartoonist Nigar Nazar were to lead the discussion.
However Qaiser was a no-show and Nazar did not have much of an input in the proceedings. The primary speaker at the conference was Society for the Protection of the Rights of The Child (Sparc) Executive Director Arshad Mehmood.
Mehmood said since January 2010, about 13 children have been killed after being beaten up by their employers for petty issues.
Furthermore no budget is allocated for the implementation of laws especially those pertaining to children’s rights. “A complete infrastructure is required to implement laws but no funds are allocated for the purpose,” he said.
Nigar Nazar said animations can be one of the best methods to spread the message of child rights among people.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2011.
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