State of Children report: After 18th Amendment, federal children’s initiatives left orphaned

UNICEF urges Pakistan to implement its treaty obligations, create a federal commission for children

Qaiser Butt June 27, 2015
UNICEF urges Pakistan to implement its treaty obligations, create a federal commission for children. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: After the 18th Amendment to the Constitution passed by Parliament in 2010, all attempts by the federal government to improve the quality of life of children appear to have fallen by the wayside, according to the 2014 State of Children in Pakistan report.

The report, the second of its kind, was produced by the Office of the National Commissioner for Children in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). The first State of Children in Pakistan report was released in 2012.

According to the report, before the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 2010, the federal government had a number of initiatives, both legislative and executive, that were under way. After the amendment devolved the responsibility for children’s rights and affairs to the provinces, those initiatives were abandoned by Islamabad, but were not adopted by the provinces.

These initiatives, many of them started by the social welfare ministry, included the 2009 National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill, the 2009 Child Protection Criminal Law Amendment Bill, the 2009 Charter of Child Rights Bill, the 2010 Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill, and the 2009 Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill. However, none of these bills were passed in parliament and remain in legislative limbo despite having the support of the law ministry.

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An official at the law ministry said that the government plans to introduce many of these bills in parliament in 2015. However, until then, the federal government’s efforts to protect the rights of children are likely to remain hampered by the lack of a legislative framework.

Even after the 18th Amendment, the federal government remains responsible for children’s rights in federal territories or special regions not part of a province, such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

The federal government is also required by Article 25 (3) of the Constitution to make special provisions to protect the rights of women and children. In addition, Islamabad retains the role of harmonising legislation among the provinces, even on matters in which it retains no jurisdiction.

As a signatory to the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Pakistan also has treaty obligations to protect children’s rights, which remain the responsibility of the federal government.

In its 2003 General Measures on the Implementations of the UNCRC, the UN states in paragraph 40 of its General Comment: “When a state ratifies the UNCRC, it takes on obligations under international law to implement it.

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The committee has found it necessary to emphasise to many states that decentralisation of power, through devolution and delegation of government, does not in any way reduce the direct responsibility of the state party’s government to fulfill its obligations to all children within its jurisdiction, regardless of state structure.”

In its report, Unicef has called upon Islamabad to set up an independent commission for the rights of children along the same lines as the National Commission on the Status of Women, which they recommend should have statutory powers to monitor and protect children’s rights across the country and ensure minimum standards in light of constitutional and international obligations.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2015.