Considering that children are the social capital of every nation, the children of Pakistan are cruelly undervalued. Today, November 20, is Universal Children’s Day and marks the date on which the United Nations General Assembly in 1959 adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and in 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention is the most ratified human rights treaty in the world. It lays out a range of rights due to children — the right to life, to health, to education and to play, as well as a right to family life. They must be protected from violence, not be discriminated against and have their views heard.
For many millions of children in Pakistan, most of the foregoing may as well never have been written. The Unicef report on the “State of the world’s children 2014” says that about 35 per cent of children under five in Pakistan are underweight. Of them, 50 per cent have stunted growth and nine per cent are actually emaciated. Around 1,100 under-fives die every day from diahorrea and illnesses related to poor sanitation and hygiene. That aggregates to 401,500 under-fives dying every year from preventable conditions, a loss of social capital that repeats year on year. The literacy picture is little better — about 42 per cent of the total population aged 10-plus is illiterate. Around 12 million children are illegally in work — and by definition out of education. At least another 1.5 million nationwide live on the streets, driven there by maltreatment in the home, at school or simply by grinding and abject poverty.
Pakistan has little to celebrate on Universal Children’s Day, and much to be ashamed of as successive governments have failed to prioritise either the broad rights of the child, or education and child health. Children are treated little more than an easily-replaceble commodity. The burgeoning birth rate ensures a ready supply and a less-than-enough approach to education ensures a future generation that will never reach its potential. ‘Must try harder’ reads the report card and the children of Pakistan are a silent rolling tragedy.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2015.
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