ON the occasion of Universal Children’s Day, observed on Nov 20, the prime minister declared 2013 as the year of child rights.
He made announcements about the establishment of the National Commission on the Rights of Children and budgetary allocations for the Parliamentary Forum on Child Rights.
These are positive developments. However, with 2013 being declared as the year of child rights, the current government needs to take some concrete steps in the last few months of its tenure to be able to bring some visible changes in the arena of child rights in Pakistan.
On Oct 30, Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was held at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. It would be a positive move by the government to immediately accept all recommendations, particularly those related to child rights, and chalk out a plan for the implementation of the UPR recommendations.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s periodic report — the country being party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child — was due in 2012. However, it could not be submitted on time while the recommendations on the last periodic report were also not implemented properly.
The government should prepare and submit the periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and implement recommendations made by the committee and the Human Rights Council.
These include the recommendations related to legislation by passing all pending bills, including the Criminal Law Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2009, the National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill 2009, the Charter of Child Rights Bill 2009, the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill and the Child Marriages Restraint Amendment Bill.
To respond to the issue of child domestic labour the government should immediately ban child domestic labour by notifying it under the schedule of banned occupations of the Employment of Children Act 1991.
Furthermore, the government should notify rules of the recently enacted ICT Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012 and make budgetary allocations to ensure its implementation in the federal capital.
Similarly, the president should notify the Federally Administered Areas Right to Free and Compulsory Education Regulation and all four provinces should enact the Right to Free and Compulsory Education bills on the pattern of national legislation.
The federal government, particularly the parliamentary forum for child rights, should help as well as push the provincial governments to invest in children and introduce laws in the remaining few months of the present provincial assemblies. It is regrettable that there was no child rights-related legislation in some provinces during the tenure of the current assemblies.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa introduced the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Borstal Institutions Act 2012. However, implementation of these laws and budgetary allocation for their proper implementation is still to be made.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Commission is doing a sound job since it was established following the enactment of the law in 2010.
Yet the provincial government needs to make sufficient budgetary allocation for the commission to be able to establish child protection units (currently established in eight out of 25 districts) across all districts of the province and work more effectively.
Punjab enacted the Punjab Employment of Children Amendment Act 2011, without any amendments in the federal Employment of Children Act 1991, except for changing the word ‘Pakistan’ with ‘Punjab’ and the word ‘federal’ with ‘provincial’.
The Punjab government should ban child domestic labour by notifying it under the schedule of banned occupations of the Employment of Children Amendment Act 2011. The provincial assembly should also enact the Punjab Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill.
The Punjab government should establish an independent provincial commission on children’s rights through an act of the provincial assembly to work for the promotion and protection of child rights in the province in light of our national and international obligations and make budgetary allocation for the implementation of all children-related laws in the province.
Sindh introduced the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011. However, here too implementation of the law and budgetary allocation is still awaited.
The Sindh government should immediately notify rules of the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011, notify the Sindh Child Protection Authority and establish child protection units at the local level. This will not be possible without proper budgetary allocation for the implementation of the law.
Furthermore, all four provinces should introduce legislation on the right to free and compulsory education acts in light of Article 25-A of the constitution. Sufficient budgetary allocations for effective implementation of this very important constitutional provision are essential.
Unfortunately, Balochistan is the only province which has failed to introduce any child rights-specific legislation since independence.
It’s high time that the provincial assembly responds to its constitutional obligations and passes all pending bills related to child rights.
The federal and provincial governments, with the support of civil society, UN agencies and donors, should immediately begin planning for 2013 and come up with strategies for making it truly a year where work is done for the advancement of children’s rights in Pakistan.
Along with the aforementioned recommendations, the federal government should also ratify the optional protocols to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Similarly, civil society, the UN and donor agencies can support the federal and provincial governments not only in the initial implementation of children-related plans and projects, but also in creating widespread awareness about child rights and extending technical assistance in having in place the right laws, policies and strategies.
The writer is a child rights activist.