Lessons from Turkey

Past glory can be a great opiate

Naeem Sadiq August 26, 2020
The writer is a health, safety and environment consultant

Past glory can be a great opiate. Loved by Pakistanis, many otherwise excellent Turkish TV serials provide a fair amount of this substance. They help us remain locked in our past, oblivious of our present or future. The mere fact that Turkey today has a protection system for its street dogs that is a hundred times superior to what Pakistan has for its children is not a concern we are willing to explore or learn from.

There are at least five lessons from the Turkish street dog protection system that Pakistan can learn from. First, it is actually intended for the dogs’ benefit and not the organisations managing this function. Second, it is based on facts and data. Third, it is designed to actually and proactively provide shelters, medical treatment, meals and healthcare to dogs. Fourth, dog protection is not governed by 36 conflicting legislations, but just one comprehensive law. And finally, Turkey accepts no grants from UNICEF, Bill & Melinda or USAid for running its dog protection centres or making dog protection SOPs.

The child protection system in Pakistan is not intended for the protection of children. It is solely dedicated to the glorification and self-promotion of its budget-guzzling bureaus, commissions and authorities. In one case a provincial Child Protection Authority spent its entire annual budget on purchasing cars and furniture for its officials. Turkey has smartly and efficiently cut through these bureaucratic structures and performs these functions through its ministries and local municipal committees. Pakistan ought to do the same.

The Turkish dog protection system is based on facts and data. Each street dog has a digital chip attached to its ear that includes data on the dog’s unique identity number (for tracking), the date it was neutered and details of vaccination. Meanwhile Pakistan has no birth record of 58% of its children. For many years, they are denied their identity and birth certificate. Can one protect what one does not know about?

The Turkish dog protection system is based on government teams proactively searching for street dogs, taking them to shelters where the dogs bathed, vaccinated, fed and housed. Pakistan’s self-serving commissions and authorities, on the contrary focus on building offices and acquiring cars and perks for themselves. There is not a single shelter for protection of abused children any where in Pakistan (except for Punjab). The Sindh Child Protection Authority unabashedly admits that “it is not responsible for establishing or managing any child protection centres”. The same is true for Islamabad and the other three provinces.

Unlike Turkey’s single legislation, Pakistan is bogged down by the weight of its own voluminous and conflicting 36 child protection legislations, with each new law further complicating this burden. Can Pakistan not agree on the following seven basic laws for its children: 1) Child abuse and child abandonment are severely punishable offences. If one can be fined $1,745 for abandoning a pet in Turkey, surely Pakistan could create similar penalties for abandonment and abuse of children; 2) It is forbidden to engage a child below the age of 16 years in any kind of child labour — domestic, commercial or industrial; 3) Children between 16 and 18 years can perform only non-hazardous tasks under well-defined conditions. 4) Marriages below the age of 18 years are forbidden; 5) Every child receives compulsory education till the age of 16 years; 6) Children’s begging and living on the streets is forbidden; and 7) No school or madrassah will operate without executing a child protection policy.

Having passed the Act, Pakistan continues to drag its feet in establishing the Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), a national child abuse database and a nationwide helpline. It must be willing to completely re-engineer its child protection system, reduce legislation and abolish its dysfunctional commissions and authorities. Turkey’s dog protection system may be an excellent model to learn from.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2020.

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