Akhtar Hussain Syed
WORLD is celebrating 30th anniversary of United Nation Convention on Rights of the Child (UN-CRC). Countries around the world are counting their accomplishments and designing their future actions to protect children. More than 195 countries have ratified UN-CRC except the United States. Pakistan ratified it on 12 November 1990 but since it then has made very little progress on child rights and today we are behind Sri Lanka, Iran, India and Myanmar. The reason behind little progress is not the political will alone but to some extent religious too. For example, this is one of the beliefs once the girl reaches the age of 9-12 she is mature and eligible to get married. Confusion or misinformation among policy makers on certain child rights issues is a leading cause of failure to save children from harmful practices like child marriage and child labour.
Political interest also plays vivacious role in not standing against malevolent practices. Courage to stand against misleading religious thoughts to support child rights is very rare. As a result, the situation is getting darker day by day as every other day we hear news about violence against children. According to UNICEF, children in Pakistan are vulnerable to many forms of violence (physical, psychological, sexual) and exploitation, including economic exploitation and child trafficking. Violence against children is one of the leading causes of injury, severe brain damage and affected mental, emotional and behavioural development of the children and sometimes even lead to death. As per report released by Sahil, child abuse has been increased by 11%. 55% girls are victim of child abuse and girls between 0-5 and 16-18 are more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Awful facts are being released every year by UN and many other organizations.
But these facts are not wakening our decision makers yet as no child protection policy has been developed. After passing two years, rules of business of the Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection and Welfare Act 2017 are not yet notified. No database has been developed to maintain record of abusers/culprits. Lack of effective implementation of existing laws is posing threat to children’s lives. Early child marriages are ruining life of the children. 21 % of girls are married before the age of 18 and three per cent before the age of 15. Girls who marry between the ages of 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy. Early child marriage is also one of the causes of violence against girls. Our political leadership failed to pass the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act 2017.
The children involved in child labour also face several forms of violence. According to UNICEF, nearly 16% of children between 5-17 ages are engaged in child labour. We will not able to end child labour without giving some incentives to the families of these children, because poverty is core source of child labour. Inclusion of victims of child labour in social protection programs may help to reduce child labour and increase enrollment ratio. A nationwide campaign against child abuse has recently been announced by Prime Minister. This campaign must cover all regional languages i-e Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto, Balochi, Balti and Saraiki. Violence against children is socially acceptable in our society. There is a need to break acceptance of the violence. Saving children from violence is not only the agenda of civil society; it’s everyone’s agenda, because nobody wants their children to be subject to violence.
Violence against children is preventable. Policy makers, civil society, government departments and community members should sit together to fill the gap in existing laws; develop new policies and implementation strategy to save children from all forms of violence. Sensitizing the general public including children on child protection and existing laws would help encourage people to report abuse. Capacity building of the concerned government departments would help in improving law enforcement situation which would further contribute in violence reduction.
Community level collaboration between concerned government departments and community members would help in shaping child protection plans at local level. Government should take necessary steps to implement UN-Periodical Review (UPR) recommendations to ensure protection of the children. Without taking concrete steps we will not be able to provide our children with safe environment. The best way to celebrate 30th anniversary of UN-CRC is to re-think and re-design our course of action to protect our current and future generations from violence.
—The writer is Islamabad based development professional and child rights supporter.