CHILDREN are the most vulnerable segment of any society. In Pakistan, their plight is a palimpsest of misery. Child labour, brick kiln bondage, domestic slavery, corporal punishment, trafficking, prostitution, sexual abuse and many other crimes against children are perpetuated every day due to the negligence of the state as well as poor enforcement of laws.
A major constraint is a lack of data due to inadequate monitoring and information systems of children in conflict with the law and those who are economically and sexually abused.
Some years ago, the National Commission on Child Welfare and Development was handed over to the Ministry of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs, in a bid to save it from being rendered defunct by the 18th Amendment. NCCWD is now under the Ministry of Human Rights, but has still not produced a national policy for child welfare and development, or any effective mechanisms for child protection.
There’s no national policy for child welfare and development.
The last report submitted by NCCWD to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was in 2007-08 on which the committee expressed serious concerns about the lack of basic disaggregated data regarding affected children, deficiencies in the legal and administrative system, and systematic and pervasive use of torture against children in custodial settings in the country.
The HRCP report, 2016, states that while sexual assault against minors, child pornography and trafficking were criminalised through an amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code by parliament, the minimum age of criminal responsibility of a child was raised from seven years to 10 years in 2015, which is still horrendous and far below international norms. About 2,000 children remained in prisons across the country in 2016. There are still no separate courts for them as required by the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO).
According to the Society for the Protection of Rights of the Child, juvenile inmates in prisons face overcrowding, malnutrition, poor sanitation, physical, mental and sexual abuse and a lack of medical care, education and recreation. A Unicef study of 2006 found that children spent, on average, 17 days in police lock-up, ranging from one day to five months; some jails had designated separate juvenile wards but there were very few borstals and juvenile remand homes in the country, and no facilities for girls.
KP is the only province to have initiated a system of data collection in collaboration with the Pakistan Society of Criminology (PSC) and Save the Children Sweden. A separate register was introduced in 2008 at all 238 police stations of KP, along with blue and pink proformae for juvenile offenders and child victims respectively. An indigenous training manual was developed for the KP police on the newly developed registers, based on actual case files of children in conflict with the law, and detailed data collection techniques were imparted to officials at all police stations in five districts.
Prior to the training, it was found that 98pc of police personnel were ignorant about the Convention on the Rights of the Child; only 10pc had heard the name of the JJSO. The training brought a visible change in their attitude towards child victims and offenders. It was found that the previous logjam that deprived children from liberty was mainly due to ignorance and fixed attitudes.
While international guidelines recommend that children in conflict with the law should be released even prior to the court hearing if possible, on an average, only 33pc were released on probation. After training, the majority of child offenders (61pc) were released with or without bail.
The PSC developed a database according to the formats of the proformae operationalised it at the CPO and the missing children centre.
A police child and women protection committee was established in September 2009 with special arrangements for juvenile offenders and abused children, such as appointment of psychologists and segregation of boys and girls. Additionally, a new directorate of Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Peace-Making, was established at CPO, Peshawar, and in 2010, the KP Child Protection and Welfare Act was promulgated.
Subsequently, the Balochistan police replicated this system of data collection in collaboration with the same partners, but both Punjab and Sindh — comprising 75pc of the population of the country — did not opt for it when this facility was offered to them by the National Police Bureau in 2009.
Adopting this system would have improved the lot of millions of children, but both provinces continue to rely on a colonial approach and are not interested in police reforms or training to implement best practices to protect children as required under international, national and provincial laws.
The writer is a former federal secretary.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2017