Protect children | Political economics


International Women’s Day 2022 affirmed a global commitment to breaking down prejudice, breaking down stereotypes, rejecting inequality and eliminating discrimination. However, the notion of ‘breaking prejudice’ has yet to resonate in the tribal culture of Punjab’s Mianwali district, where a seven-day-old girl was killed by her father who wanted a boy.

Ayesha* was married to Arif two years ago. She gave birth to her first child, a girl, and named her Fatima. Her husband thought the birth of a daughter had brought shame on his family. The father, who desperately wanted a son, got so angry that he shot the newborn five times with a .30 caliber pistol. After the shooting at their home, he fled.

Muhammad Faisal Rana, the Sargodha Regional Police Officer, who has been monitoring the investigation into the case, informed the National Commission for the Rights of the Child that an uncle of Ayesha is the complainant against Arif. He said that three special teams have been formed for the arrest of the suspect. After 30 raids at different places, he was arrested in Bhakkar district.

The RPO said legal and cultural barriers block access to justice in such cases. These include the difficulties of witness protection, the aggravating nature of the offence, the lack of socio-psychological counseling for victims and widely accepted harmful social norms.

The NCRC received 17 complaints from various districts in Punjab in March. These ranged from child sexual abuse to murder. An eight-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted by a teacher at a seminary in Golra village in Attock. A 16-year-old boy, who worked as a daily bettor, was raped by a man in Pindigheb. An 11-year-old girl was allegedly physically assaulted by landlords in Faisalabad. A 10-year-old girl was beaten by her school teacher in Muridke. She had a nervous breakdown and died three days later. Hamza, 14, died after being subjected to corporal punishment by his teachers.

Our children are not safe either in the houses or in the streets; nor safe in schools and religious seminaries. So why doesn’t Punjab have a comprehensive child protection law?

Some initiatives have been taken by the government in this direction in recent years. These include the establishment of the National Commission for the Rights of the Child (NCRC), the enactment of the Zainab Alert Act, the Response and Recovery Act 2020, the on the Juvenile Justice System and the ICT Child Protection Act 2020. In 2021, a Senate Standing Committee meeting approved the Juvenile Justice System (Amendment) Bill of 2021, the Capital Territory Child Welfare Bill of 2021 Islamabad (Amendment) and the National Commission for the Rights of the Child (Amendment) Bill 2021.

A child needs protection if he or she is the victim of physical and psychological violence, sexual abuse or commercial sexual exploitation; forced into the worst forms of child labor, exploitation or begging; victims of human trafficking in and out of Pakistan.

Besides being part of the drafting committee of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Pakistan was the first Islamic country and the sixth in the world to sign and ratify the UNCRC. The agreement specifies the Survival, Development, Protectionand Participation children’s rights. The right to protection is described in several articles of the UNCRC including Articles 3, 19, 20, 24, 26, 27, 28, 32, 33, 34, 36 and 39. The Constitution of Pakistan provides a legal framework for the protection of children. Article 35 requires the state to protect marriage, family, mother and child. Articles 11 and 25 of the Constitution provide more details on child protection. However, the growing number of child rights violations shows that Pakistan faces serious challenges in meeting its commitments to protect its children and bring people to justice for crimes committed against them.

Pakistan faces immense pressure from the international community to protect children’s rights. The UNCRC is one of the conventions followed by Treaty Implementation Units established at the federal and provincial levels aimed at the implementation of the country’s international treaty obligations.

Punjab is the most populous province of Pakistan. It is home to 110 million people (53% of Pakistan’s population) and more than 22 million children between the ages of 5 and 16. However, the situation of child rights protection in Punjab is far from satisfactory.

According to Sahil, a local NGO working for children’s rights, 57% of all child abuse cases in Pakistan were reported in the province in 2020. After the passage of the 18th Amendment, child-related issues are a provincial subject. The enactment of laws and the mechanisms for implementation vary from province to province. Punjab is the only province that does not have a comprehensive law for children in need of protection and care.

A child needs protection if they are the victim of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation. A child needs protection if he or she is the victim of physical and psychological violence, sexual abuse or commercial sexual exploitation; forced into any of the worst forms of child labor, exploitation or begging; subject to human trafficking in Pakistan or abroad; being used for drug trafficking or abusing substances like glue, drugs, spirits; engaged in armed conflict; without primary caregivers; or affected or infected with HIV/AIDS.

Because provinces have unique demographic, political, socio-economic and cultural characteristics, the evolution of child welfare legislation was the responsibility of provincial governments. Islamabad Capital Territory introduced the Child Protection and Custody Act in 2018; Balochistan enacted its Child Welfare Act in 2016. Sindh enacted the Sindh Child Welfare Authority Act in 2011 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa enacted the Protection and Welfare Act. -being from the childhood of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2010.

Punjab was the first province to enact specific child protection legislation in Pakistan: the Destitute and Neglected Children of Punjab Act 2004. The legislation is aimed at the rescue, protective custody, care and rehabilitation of the only destitute and neglected children in the province. Proceedings under Part VII of the PDNCA2004 can only be brought against a child who has not reached the age of 15, even though in the course of such proceedings he may have reached the age of eighteen. For the implementation of the law, the Office of Child Protection and Welfare was established to deal with child protection issues in the province. The first amendment regarding the composition of the council was made to the act in 2007. The PDNCA was later amended in 2017 to register organizations managing the accommodation of destitute and neglected children, creating new offenses and increasing penalties for existing offences.

The government formed a high-level technical committee on November 15, 2019 to make recommendations for comprehensive legislation. The committee is headed by the Minister of Social Welfare/Law and includes the Secretaries of relevant departments as members (Home, Law, Social Welfare, Human Rights, Health, Local Government, Planning and Development, Labour, Development Women, Prosecutions and Finance). departments) and the Office of Child Protection and Welfare. Subsequently, the Department of Social Welfare proposed new legislation named Punjab Child Protection Bill, 2021, while the CPWB proposed a series of amendments in the PDNCA 2004.

In its recommendations submitted to the Chief Minister, the NCRC advised the government to act on the recommendations and observations made by international treaty bodies, including the harmonization of laws regarding the definition of the child. It was further recommended that a comprehensive child protection policy be introduced to provide guidelines to legislatures for the enactment of legislative reforms and to introduce child protection systems at provincial and district levels. Since the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 only caters for destitute and neglected children, NCRC strongly recommended a comprehensive Child Welfare Act, covering all children in need of protection.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

The writer is a human rights activist and a leadership advisor. She is a member of the National Commission for the Rights of the Child. She received her Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego, California. She tweets @RubinaFBhatti

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