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Trivialising child rights

The latest report submitted by the government of Pakistan to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a poor apology for not doing enough for the country’s children.

The government is required to submit to the UNCRC a report every four years describing what has been done by way of compliance with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), especially with recommendations made by the committee on its earlier reports.

This is the fifth periodic report to the committee. It was drafted some time in 2013 and is scheduled to be examined by the UN committee in the coming October. The period covered is January 2008 to March 2013.

The UN committee’s request for the submission of a core document has again been ignored. And the report is almost wholly devoted to meeting the demands made by the committee in 2009.

Two points about this report may be noted. First, the report was to be submitted by Dec 11, 2012, and the delay in its submission is considerably less than usual. Secondly, as against the prescribed limit of 120 pages, this report does not exceed 85, despite the use of a fairly large font for the text. However, the committee’s request for the submission of a core document, containing basic information about the country, has again been ignored. As usual the report contains quite a few disclosures. For instance, look at the following paragraph:

“Full realisation of children’s rights in accordance with the CRC requires significant resources. Taking cognisance of this, the government had declared 2013 as the Year of Child Rights in which massive awareness raising programmes will be undertaken with the view to create awareness in the society. The government has also appointed a commissioner for child rights protection in 2013.”

One wonders what Pakistan’s representative will tell the committee about the campaign that had been planned for 2013!

The issue of children’s sexual exploitation and abuse, which has become the focus of public debate following the Kasur scandal, figured prominently in the committee’s concluding comments of 2009. The committee had recommended the adoption of legislation in which the offence of abuse was defined, both rural and urban populations were covered, and: “the committee also recommends that cases of abuse of children, including sexual abuse, be properly investigated and that perpetrators be duly prosecuted. Measures should also be taken to provide victims with support services for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration, in a gender sensitive manner.”

The government’s response is quite interesting: “Though all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse is a serious crime/offence in Pakistan, there is room to improve laws and their implementation. In this regard, some CSOs (civil society organisations) have conducted assessment for understanding the extent, scope and root causes of child sexual abuse and exploitation. … CSOs and government departments jointly help and support victim children and families in all matters while pursuing their cases in courts. Simultaneously, numerous consultative sessions for police and judicial officers have been organised by the CSOs.”

The adoption of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) Act in 2012 is mentioned as one of the steps taken by the government to strengthen children’s human rights. What excuse will be offered for not making the NCHR functional till the middle of 2015? The adoption of laws is mentioned as the extension of protection to children without any reference to results achieved.

The committee had made some clear recommendations about preventing the use of children in armed conflicts. The report says the issue is the “use of children by extremists” and asserts “the law enforcement operation carried out by the law enforcement agencies cannot be termed as [a] conflict situation. The government is making utmost efforts to prevent instances of [the] use of children by terrorists and extremist groups. Punitive action is being taken against those who use children for terrorist activities.” No explanation is offered for not ratifying the protocol to the CRC on the subject. The protocol is not even mentioned.

The committee had asked for the strict regulation of madressahs, concrete action to eliminate the teaching of religious or sectarian intolerance, the protection of children from maltreatment in madressahs, and the prevention of recruitment of students by armed groups.

The government says: “Pakistan has improved the registration of madressahs. … The federal government has prioritised the improvement and monitoring of these institutions” and adds an amazing defence of the madressahs:

“However, more efforts are needed for effective monitoring of madressahs, which are large in number and present in every nook and corner of the country, including rural and far flung areas. A large number of [madressahs] are firmly embedded in the fabric of society and culture as they respond to an important community need and enjoy community ownership and participation; madressahs enjoy respect and confidence of the parents and elders. However, the government shall continue with its programmes to reform madressahs and madressah education.”

This column does not have the space that is needed to take notice of all the gems of drafting, excuses for not performing well, evasion of questions and use of sheer untruths. A paper presented at a recent seminar in Islamabad listed 29 recommendations made in 2005 and repeated in 2009, out of which 12 remain unimplemented. That requires a considerable degree of indifference to the rights of children.

The reports to the committee on the rights of the child may be the principal instrument for judging the level of the government’s investment in the country’s future; another important indicator is the promises Pakistan made during the Universal Periodic Review in 2012. Many of these promises remain unfulfilled.

It is perhaps time the government of Pakistan realised that a national plan to ensure respect for the rights of the child is as important, if not more, as the NAP to fight terrorism. The elimination of terrorists will not automatically make children literate and knowledgeable, but proper education of the youth will surely increase the nation’s capacity to fight terrorism, and perhaps more efficiently too.

I. A. Rehman, "Trivialising child rights," Dawn. 2015-08-20.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social aspects , Child rights , Sexual abuse , Sexual victims , Social rights , Civil society , Government-Pakistan , Extremism , Humanity , Pakistan , UNCRC , CRC , CSOs , NCHR , NAP