At the time the 18th Amendment was passed, it was hailed as a triumph of democracy and true devolution of power to the provinces that would improve the life of everybody. Sadly, that is not the case, as the provinces, with the possible exception of Punjab, were singularly unprepared for the additional burdens that were brought upon them, and lacked the capacity in administrative terms to effectively spend budgets. This is particularly so when it comes to health, education and social welfare. The recent report on the quality of life for children produced by the Office of the National Commissioner for Children in collaboration with Unicef, makes miserable reading.
When the 18th Amendment was passed in 2010, there were a number of federal initiatives relating to children that were already in place. These were both legislative and executive, and the assumption was that responsibility for them would now devolve to the provinces. The initiatives were abandoned by the government in Islamabad and they were cast adrift. The provinces have failed to follow through or provide continuity and a number of important, indeed essential, initiatives have withered on the vine. These include a range of Bills that were due to be ratified by parliament but are now in abeyance, not having been passed by the provincial assemblies. The social welfare ministry was the primary source of these Bills and they include 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, amongst others. This is not minor legislation, these are matters that should be high on the agendas of any government. Despite the passing of the 18th Amendment, the federal government retains a responsibility to protect the rights of children and it has conspicuously failed in that respect. Decentralisation does not reduce the core responsibilities of the state, but once again the state has failed in its duty of care to the most vulnerable in society.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2015.
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