Universal Children Day: Inclusion, for every child
DR Jessica Luitjohan, Paediatric Psychologist once said “If you can help your child understand that it’s good to include all of their (his/her) classmates so no one feels left behind, you’ve gone a long way toward helping them (him/her) learn compassion for others.”
20 November is celebrated across the world as Universal Children’s Day with various pledges to make the world a better place for children.
The quote by Dr. Jessica aligns with theme of Universal Children Day 2022 ie Inclusion, For Every Child.
On 20 November 2022, it will be thirty-three years since the countries of the world, including Pakistan, came to a historic decision and recognized, for the first time in human history, that children have special rights and needs.
The members of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Pakistan ratified it a year later, on 12 December 1990.
Pakistan was the first Muslim and sixth country in the world to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Ratifying the UNCRC was a major achievement to make Pakistan a child-friendly state. UNCRC is an international human rights agreement, which defines the civil, social, health, cultural, political and economic rights of children under the age of eighteen.
Articles 1 to 41 are about the rights of children whereas the remaining 13 articles are about the responsibilities of adults. In a nutshell, UNCRC states that every right is for every child.
Pakistan at present has the highest percentage of children ever recorded in history. Being a young country should be an asset for us but due discrimination and one-sided provision of child rights has made us a country which is hit most by pandemics and natural calamities.
Pakistan falls behind in almost all child rights indicators whether health, education, child marriages, protection from violence, child labour etc. The two reasons which should be obvious but are still overlooked 1. All Children are not covered in our policies 2. Children are not consulted in policymaking.
Difference in standard of public and private schooling and hospitals, absence of street children from policymaking, ignoring domestic workers from labour policy, and children from various communities facing issues in birth registration etc. are some examples that intentionally or unintentionally discrimination happens in provision of child rights in Pakistan. Missing this fact during project planning means low budgetary allocation for children of certain backgrounds.
There’s a direct relationship between the low spending and this low ranking. For example, in South Asia Pakistan has the lowest budget allocation for public education (received mostly by children from poor backgrounds) and hence it has the second highest number of out of school children in world.
Similarly, child labour, child marriage, sexual and physical violence, haven’t been eliminated from rural areas because of insufficient spending on monitoring and punishment mechanisms.
In order to overcome this challenge, the government needs to implement UNICEF’s suggestion of categorizing ‘Children’ as a separate head in the budget.
This will result in concrete monitoring and evaluation of the state’s spending on children which is difficult at the moment as child-related amounts are scattered in several categories.
Children’s exclusion from policy decisions related to them is a ‘dominant’ development practice. Since the views and issues of beneficiaries aren’t considered during the planning phase, the projects always deliver less than the desired outcome.
This practice is something which public and private organizations need to look into. Best practices of child inclusion are the presence of child members in the National Child Rights Commission. This practice should be expanded to all government departments whose work directly or indirectly impacts children.
Diversity Officer Rachel Olivero’s quote sums up the course of action for government and adults – “Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists, it is making a new space, a better space for everyone.” Pakistan has been in existence for 75 years, May it live forever, but for that to happen, we need to create a new, improved and inclusive environment for our children.
—The writer is Programme Manager, Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, SPARC, Islamabad.