Pakistan’s human rights review

Published: October 25, 2017
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The writer is a human-rights activist and development practitioner with a Master’s in human rights from the London School of Economics (LSE) and tweets @amahmood72

The writer is a human-rights activist and development practitioner with a Master’s in human rights from the London School of Economics (LSE) and tweets @amahmood72

Pakistan’s next Universal Periodic Review (UPR) — a unique mechanism of the UN aimed at improving a country’s human rights situation on the ground — is all set to take place on November 13, 2017 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The country’s last such review was held five years ago.

The review is based on three reports: 1) the state’s national report, 2) a compilation of UN information on the state prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and 3) a summary of other relevant stakeholders’ information, including NGOs’, prepared by the OHCHR. From Pakistan a number of stakeholders’ reports have been submitted by different civil society organisations focusing on different areas such as human rights, women’s rights, situation of minorities, labour rights, right to information and child rights. I’ll briefly discuss the concerns and recommendations raised by the Child Rights Movement (CRM), a coalition of more than 300 national and international organisations working for child rights in Pakistan, in its report.

The CRM report has highlighted that Pakistan has been slow in implementing the 2012 UPR recommendations. It has pointed out that no proper follow-up plans were developed and implemented to make sure that the UPR recommendations are widely distributed among the relevant stakeholders and steps taken for their implementation. Furthermore, it also highlighted slow progress by the government in implementing the majority of recommendations from the third and fourth (October 2009) and 5th (July 2016) periodic reports by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Pakistan, it said, should come up with a concrete follow-up plan for the implementation of the UPR recommendations from the current cycle with a focus on all the federating units. Similarly, the CRM also recommended that the concluding observations and recommendations (CO&R) on Pakistan’s 5th Periodic Report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child should be fully implemented and a proper follow up plan should be devised for the purpose. These are quite relevant and pertinent recommendations keeping in mind the depleting state of child rights in the country and poor implementation of the recommendations from the last cycles of UPR and Committee on the Rights of the Child.

As a positive development, the long-awaited independent National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC) related recommendation by CRM has already been implemented to the extent that the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Act of 2017 has been passed. However, steps are still to be taken to establish the NCRC and is provided with adequate financial support to conduct monitoring of the state of child rights in the country. It is strongly recommended that the government of Pakistan should immediately take steps for establishing and operationalising the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC).

The CRM also recommended that a National Plan of Action (NPA) for Children should be adopted in light of the children-specific UPR recommendations and the CO&R of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and through a consultative process with all the key stakeholders including the CSOs and children. The last NPA for Children was adopted in 2006 which was never implemented as no budgetary allocation was made for its implementation and no monitoring mechanism was put in place. In the post 18th constitutional amendment scenario it is important that the federal and provincial governments adopt Plans of Action for Children for the promotion and protection of children’s rights and implementation of Pakistan’s national and international obligations related to child rights.

Though the provinces have child protection system related laws in place, the CRM noted there is no effective child protection system in place in any province nor at the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) level. It has recommended that Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) should ensure the effective implementation of their respective child protection laws, make solid budgetary allocations for child protection and establish Child Protection Units (CPUs) across all districts. Similarly, the ICT Child Protection and Welfare Bill should be enacted immediately and budgetary allocation should be made for establishing a comprehensive Child Protection System at the federal capital and Fata level, recommended the CRM.

Malnutrition is contributing to 35% of all under-5 deaths in Pakistan. According to Unicef, 32% of infants have low birth-weight. According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2012-13, the new-born mortality rate was 55/1,000 live births, infant mortality rate was 70/1,000 and under 5 mortality rate was 87/1,000. As a result, Pakistan has failed its MDGs targets on maternal and child health. The National Nutrition Survey identified 15.1% under 5 children wasted, 43.7% stunted and 31.5% underweight. Child anaemia is recorded at 62.5% and maternal anaemia at 51%.

It will be difficult to adequately address the low rates of immunisation and the high rates of malnutrition without increasing the responsibilities of lady health workers (LHWs) and increasing their numbers.

To respond to this situation, the Provincial Multi Sectoral Nutrition Strategies should be implemented and budgetary allocation should be increased for nutrition. Nutrition should be integrated into existing health services. Legislation should be adopted at the federal and provincial levels to make immunisation compulsory. Similarly, the federal and provincial governments should prioritise policies and programmes on nutrition, vaccination and health workers to reduce mother, newborn and child mortality and make sufficient budgetary allocations. The provincial governments must provide more vaccinators and expand the responsibilities of LHWs so that they can also administer vaccines.

In relation to education, CRM has recommended that the government should increase the budgetary allocation for education to at least 4% of the GDP. School curricula should be revised and updated in accordance with Education for Global Citizenship and Sustainable Development together with teacher training. The government should establish concrete mechanisms to ensure that all children have basic competency levels, are equipped with life skills and are enrolled in accelerated learning programmes in case of drop-outs and establish an effective and tested tracking system for monitoring retention, dropout and learning outcomes of children. The government must ensure in strict legislative provisions that educational institutions must not be used for any other purpose except education and should provide security to educational institutions and teachers to ensure their safety. Similarly, it further recommended that the government of Pakistan must make efforts to regularise and mainstream madrassas and include them into the education system by implementing the Madrasah Registration & Regulation Ordinance (2002) & Madrassah reforms and establishing adequate monitoring mechanisms and allocating resources for it. The syllabus of madrassas should be made consistent and uniform with the national curriculum guidelines and be approved by the government.

Another CRM recommendation is amending the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 by enacting the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill to increase the minimum marriageable age for girls from 16 to 18 years. Unfortunately, however, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Interior rejected the bill declaring it un-Islamic despite the fact that mover of the Bill, Senator Sehar Kamran, was not present at the meeting. Following severe criticism from civil society, now the Senate Committee has cleared the bill. It is recommended that the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017 should be passed by parliament before Pakistan’s UPR is due in November. Similarly, all other recommendations related to child rights should be reviewed and implemented immediately.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2017.

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