LAHORE: The Punjab government has been urged to expedite the process for development and finalisation of the long-pending child protection policy as a guiding document to ensure every child is safe, secure and protected.

This was pleaded during a roundtable session, jointly organised on Tuesday by Search for Justice and Children Advocacy Network-CAN Pakistan in collaboration with the Consortium for Street Children, to mark the International Day for Street Children annually observed on April 12.

Child rights activist Syed Miqdad Mehdi highlighted the need to establish outreach services of government bodies to facilitate street children in an indigenous environment. He also suggested diverting the adolescents on streets towards vocational training to bring them into the mainstream and enable them to generate decent livelihood opportunities. Mr Mehdi particularly highlighted the need to review the Punjab Destitute and neglected Children Act under guidelines of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and urged the government to find specialised solutions to make sure all street children received education, health and other services in a dignified manner.

Activist suggests diverting adolescent street children towards vocational training

Abdul Rehman, a 12-year-old child on the street who is enrolled in a non-formal and basic education centre operated by the Search for Justice, shared how they faced discouraging behaviours of society. “We are also humans, God’s creations and that’s why we should be accepted in our own indigenous identity,” he lamented, and demanded the government provide clean drinking water facility in the slums where street children lived.

Zahida Manzoor from Unicef spoke on the need for enactment of legislation to establish a referral and case management system in Punjab. The child protection system will provide legal, psychological, social, medical and other services to victims of violence and abuse.

Huzaifa Imtiaz, a clinical psychologist, shared that street children had a natural ability to learn things quickly as compared to children in normal settings, so she said there was a lot of potential to divert them towards technical and vocational programmes. She also brought to attention the involvement of street children and other youths in drug abuse as a result of neglect. There are, unfortunately, not enough facilities available within the public sector health system for the rehabilitation of children using drugs. Ms Imtiaz stressed on positive parenting as a key tool for nurturing children.

Search for Justice Executive Director Iftikhar Mubarik sought devising a strong coordination mechanism among relevant government departments to ensure provision of essential services -- education, identity, health and protection – to street-connected children. Children in street situations should be supported proactively to obtain legal identity documents. He demanded the Punjab government expedite the process for development of a holistic child protection policy to set the strategic directions for the government to end all forms of violence against children.

Children Advocacy Network-CAN Pakistan Coordinator Rashida Qureshi proposed adoption of specialised solutions to address the issues of street children. She also stressed the need for extending support to parents and legal guardians to prevent children from ending up in streets, and for strengthening family reunification programmes for children already in street situations.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2022

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