We keep hearing about and reading frightening media reports regarding the plight of children in the country on a daily basis, like 70,000-plus first-day deaths occurring in Pakistan, 352,000 children dying of preventable causes before their fifth birthday each year, 45 per cent of under-five deaths directly being linked to under-nutrition among children and their mothers, 44 per cent children being malnourished, declining rates of exclusive breastfeeding for six-month-old babies, nearly seven million children of primary school-going age being out of school with high gender disparity in education at all levels, nearly 1.5 million children living and/or working on the streets, and approximately 10 million children being involved in child labour.
The Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 is poorly implemented and there is no effective child protection system in place in any part of the country. Several bills related to child rights are pending at the national and provincial levels, including the Balochistan Child Protection and Welfare Bill, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill and the K-P Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Bill, the Punjab Child Marriages Restraint Bill, as well as several bills at the federal level, including the Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill, the National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill, the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill and the Criminal Laws Amendment Bill to name a few. The laws that have been passed have seen little implementation, resulting in there being no visible impact on the situation of children in the country. There has been little or no budgetary allocation for the various laws that have been passed in our provincial assemblies related to child rights.
Moreover, the Concluding Observations and Recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Periodic Review Recommendations have never been implemented in letter and in spirit. One of the reasons for no follow-up on these international commitments is that there is no national-level body with statutory status to ensure effective implementation of Pakistan’s national and international obligations. Pakistan was the sixth country in the world to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990 following its adoption by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989. Every year, on November 20, the Universal Children’s Day is observed, with 2014 being the 25th anniversary of the passing of the UNCRC. Unfortunately, however, there seems to be little cause for celebration in this regard in Pakistan as there has been little implementation of the UNCRC.
Pakistan has failed to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDG), including MDG-4, which refers to a two-thirds reduction in the under-five mortality rate, which currently stands at 87 per 1,000 live births. There is also the problem of poor vaccination rates for children due to a weak routine immunisation system and growing violence against them, among various other serious issues afflicting child rights in the country.
There is a need to effectively build pressure on the federal and provincial governments by involving children, civil society, media and other relevant stakeholders to push them into taking steps for improving the situation of children and fulfilling Pakistan’s national and international obligations. Following the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, the task of preserving child rights has been devolved to the provinces. There is an opportunity to engage more with provincial governments in order to push for the realisation of the rights of the child in Pakistan. While provinces have enacted laws and policies central to improve the state of child rights, unfortunately, implementation remains a key concern.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2014.