KARACHI: Provision of fundamental constitutional rights, including access to free compulsory education and nutritious food, to children is critical for Pakistan’s future regardless of the debate whether the country would get the EU GSP Plus Status for 2024 to 2033, Karamat Ali, a seasoned rights activist, said at a programme held at the University of Karachi on Thursday.

He was invited to speak on ‘The EU GSP Plus Status for Pakistan and Child Labour: Compliance and Compulsions’ at the KU Area Study Centre for Europe.

Tracing the background of the GSP programme, Prof Uzma Shujaat explained that almost 50 years ago, the UN conference on Trade and Development had asked developed countries to help developing countries to integrate into the world economy.

“The GSP was born and today about a dozen countries have GSP mechanisms in place. It is widely recognised as the most progressive in terms of coverage and benefits,” she said.

The EU GSP programme, she pointed out, removed import duties from products coming into the European Union market from vulnerable developing countries, helping them alleviate poverty and create jobs based on international values and principles, including labour and human rights.

Pakistan clinched the EU GSP plus status back in 2014 and managed to secure an extension this year till January 2024.

“The Europe Union is the largest partner of Pakistan mainly because Pakistani products have duty free access to EU on 91pc tariff lines under EU’s special incentive arrangements for good governance and sustainable development,” she said, adding that the country’s exports had increased by 60pc making the EU the most important destination for Pakistani goods.

Challenges ahead

Pakistan, she pointed out, faced challenges in order to maintain the trade preferences under GSP Plus beyond 2023 as the EU was incorporating seven more conventions for making countries eligible to apply for the status for 2024 to 2033. The new conventions pertained to greater accessibility for people with physical disability, eradication of child labour and environmental safety.

“The proposals will now be analysed and revised by the EU parliament. The final new regulation is planned to be agreed upon in 2022, sufficiently ahead of the expiry of the current regulations.”

About the state of children’s rights in Pakistan, Karamat Ali regretted that successive governments in the country had done nothing to provide fundamental rights to children under the Constitution.

“Under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, children aged 5 to 16 years have the right to have free compulsory education. But, you can see how much progress has been made on this subject over the years,” he said, adding that even in the current budgets no allocation had been made to ensure that all children had easy access to education.

The matter, he said, was also taken to court in 2012 but the legal recourse had not made any difference on the ground yet.

Citing data on out-of-school children and those who could not go to school, he said the often-quoted figure was between 25m and 35m. “It’s an alarming number which will increase every year, if drastic measures are not taken to address the problem. Then, 70pc of our children are malnourished. It’s not difficult to foresee that Pakistan has a bleak future if it continues to fail its children.”

Referring to developed countries, Mr Ali said they made progress only after they universalised education and Pakistan needed to follow the same path. “Besides, a large number of illiterate and unemployed youth are a threat for society’s development. We must start investing in our future.”

In her concluding remarks, Prof Shujaat said good governance and elimination of all kinds of injustice was necessary for human development.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2021

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