ISLAMABAD: Key priority areas have been identified to raise awareness on the prevention, protection and redress of issues related to child rights, the human rights minister announced on Thursday.

The minister was speaking at an event, organised by the Ministry of Human Rights and the European Union, to launch an awareness campaign on ‘Protecting Our Children: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Pakistan’.

Dr Shireen Mazari said that safeguarding children was an Islamic duty, a constitutional duty and in line with Pakistan’s international commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Campaign to protect, prevent child sexual abuse launched

She said the government is committed to fulfilling obligations to protect children, and the human rights ministry is focusing on protecting children from child abuse.

Dr Mazari added that child abuse should not be treated as a taboo, remarking that people are hesitant to discuss the issue instead of educating children.

She said the issue must be recognised and parents and teachers should realise their responsibility and be open with their children and students, and inform them of child abuse and what preventive measures to take.

In addition to legislation and its implementation, awareness is important to fight this issue, she said.

The human rights ministry has established a helpline where issues related to human rights abuses, including child abuse, can be reported, she said. Dr Mazari added that the draft Zainab Alert bill remains with the National Assembly standing committee and would ensure that children’s rights are protected.

Human Rights Secretary Rabia Javeri Agha also spoke at the event about a National Plan of Action for the Rights of the Child.

She said the ministry has ensured that child rights will be properly addressed.

“This is primarily done through ensuring prevention, protection, rehabilitation/reintegration, participation and learning mechanisms. The government is interested in creating behavioural change through targeted awareness campaigns, enforcing justice and making systemic change through the establishment of institutions i.e. the National Commission on the Rights of the Child,” she said.

“Reported cases of child abuse increased by 11pc in year 2018 compared to 2017, with more than 10 children suffering some form of abuse every day in Pakistan last year. The Protect Our Children initiative aims to inform the public, especially families, caregivers and parents about the importance of noticing the signs of child abuse so that children can be protected and supported in order to be taken out of such situations,” she said.

Shehzad Roy, a goodwill ambassador for the campaign, spoke in his speech about the need for such initiatives and provided insight into how important it is for Pakistani society to notice signs that child survivors of abuse and exploitation express silently.

He noted that these signs often go unnoticed because perpetrators in most cases are known by the child or the family.

“We’ve come leaps and bounds in recent years by successfully advocating for both defensive and preventive policies to combat child abuse,” he said.

He added: “From passing bills criminalising corporal punishment through to the integration of life skills-based education in some provincial government schools. It is to be hoped that now millions of children will be saved from abuse. While these are major strides, changes in law and policy, there is a need for acceptance and ownership by the community and parents in particular.”

The ministry also collaborated with children for legal and policy reforms to enforce child rights across the country. Participating child representatives Fariha Zamir and Qaiser Khan explained how these laws led to the establishment of pilot child courts in the provincial and federal capitals in collaboration with the judiciary.

They pledged to continue working with the ministry for juvenile justice reform, legislation, capacity building and developing response mechanisms to contribute to the promotion of child rights and ensure justice for children.

Short documentaries were also screened to raise awareness and showcase preventive measures.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2019