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Poverty affecting children, women’s survival: UN

December 12, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Dec 12: Persistent poverty is putting the survival and development of children and women at greater risk, fears a new UN analysis.

It further deplores that if the present trend of poverty continues, Pakistan may not be able to meet the poverty-reduction targets by 2015.

The ‘Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Pakistan 2012’ released by Unicef here on Wednesday referred to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of Federal Bureau of Statistics which increased from 158.90 in 2007-08 to 244.26 in 2010-11.

The report says these negative developments are expected to increase the number of poor people in all parts of the country, including Punjab, which is home to around 60 per cent of the country’s population.

Stating that poverty in Pakistan has always been higher in rural areas, the situation analysis states that in the absence of estimates of headcount poverty in rural and urban areas, it is difficult to provide evidence of emerging trends. Headcount poverty is an estimate which determines the number of people who live below poverty line.

However, prima facie evidence suggests that the gap between rural and urban areas may have further narrowed over the last five years.

About the implementation of 18th Amendment, the Unicef analysis says that decentralisation carries with it many unanswered questions about the effect it will have on resource allocations for public services, including education and health care, which directly impact the lives of children and women.

The report says that gender inequality in Pakistan is widespread, reflecting the patriarchal nature of society in which men dominate. This mindset permeates every domain, from the household to the community and the wider public sphere.

The ‘gender gap’ exists across most well-being indicators in terms of capacities, access to resources and opportunities; inequality within the family, in workforce, political sphere and in education and healthcare.

Regional poverty trends in Pakistan suggest that while poverty increased in all provinces in the 1990s, it was highest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At the beginning of the decade it was 33.62 per cent and by the end of the period it was 41.47 per cent.

It is also significant to note that the incidence of headcount poverty sharply increased in Sindh and Balochistan between 1998-99 and 2000-01.

The analysis breaks new ground in devising an index, crafted according to the realities and priorities facing Pakistan, to identify and locate the most deprived children. Child well-being is quantified by deploying a measurement of deprivations in five domains; child survival, child education, water and sanitation, child protection, and shelter and information.

These are weighed and combined into a single indicative number, a Child Well-being Index (CWI), for each district. These district rankings are then mapped for each province or area. The results indicate that fully 57 per cent of the 132 districts, agencies and frontier regions in the sample return poor results for child well-being, according to the different sets of indicators devised for each province in determining the provincial CWI.

The analysis shows that although child marriage is technically against law in Pakistan, 70 per cent of girls are married by the age of 18, and 20 per cent by the age of 13; predictably, the figures are especially high in rural areas.

Some 264,000 children are found in domestic labour in Pakistan. Most of these children enter into domestic labour due to poverty and come from rural backgrounds.

Children and women are bought, sold, “rented”, or kidnapped to work in organised illegal begging rings, domestic servitude, prostitution and bonded labour.

Illegal labour agents charge high fees from parents with false promises of decent work for their children, who are later exploited and subjected to forced labour in domestic servitude, unskilled jobs, small shops and other sectors.

The greatest problem is bonded labour, concentrated in Punjab in agriculture and brick making, which employ school-age children in arduous work under grueling conditions, it says.

The most common act of violence against women – domestic violence – mostly goes unreported. In 2009 only 608 registered cases of domestic violence were reported across the country.

Pakistan also lacks a universal system of birth registration. Its overall birth registration rate is believed to be very low; about 30 per cent even by government’s own reckoning. Overall, the well-being of children and women in Pakistan is viewed in the analysis from a human rights perspective, with the aim of identifying the segments of the 80-million-strong child population of Pakistan who are the most vulnerable.

All too often, despite the periodic gathering of data through household surveys, the poorest and most marginalised communities are not systematically assessed and are often forgotten when national development plans are laid and resources allocated.

These communities are also the least likely to have a voice in global and national decision-making forums.

Disaggregating national data to identify these groups and assess the factors that exclude them is fundamental to designing equitable solutions, according to the analysis.