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Published April 9, 2013

LAST year, former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf declared 2013 as the year of the rights of the child in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, the PPP-led government couldn’t take any tangible steps on this front in the few months it remained in power since the announcement last November, achieving little except for the last-minute approval of the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill 2013 by the National Assembly and the approval of the Criminal Law Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2013 by the federal cabinet.

This is an election year in Pakistan and political parties have begun to share their programmes and manifestos with the masses. Is there enough concentration on the right of children to health and protection?

Referring to health in its 2013 manifesto, the PPP has declared it a high priority subject. The PTI has plans to revamp and upgrade the public healthcare system in Pakistan by putting in place reforms such as establishing basic health units at the post office level and increasing the annual budgetary allocation for health to 1.5 per cent of GDP.

The PML-Q is committed to advancing maternal and child health programmes and addressing infant mortality.

The PML-N had previously highlighted the importance of modernising the main teaching hospitals both in the federal capital and the provinces. The party has now committed to increasing overall expenditure on health to 2pc of GDP, achieving 100pc vaccination for children and 50pc reduction in maternal and infant mortality by 2018.

The MQM has committed to increased public expenditure on health from 0.6pc to 5pc of GDP. It has further pledged to ensure full coverage of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation and to establish hospitals in every district and healthcare centre in every village. In its manifesto, the MQM also commits to effective legislation against social ailments like gender discrimination, sexual harassment, domestic violence, child abuse, etc.

The ANP has pledged to strive for the provision of health facilities to all citizens. The party aims to allocate at least 6pc of GDP to health. It has emphasised child and maternal care, provision of clean drinking water and preventive medicine.

The ANP has vowed to review, legislate and implement child labour laws to ensure that labour under the age of 16 years is prohibited in all sectors. It has also committed to reforming the juvenile justice system.

While reviewing the manifestos of the political parties it was observed that the content of most manifestos has minor changes from the manifestos of the 2008 elections.

Also, most of the commitments made regarding the right to health are of a general nature and there has been not enough emphasis linking large-scale health reforms to our international commitments such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Some parties have made specific recommendations related to budgetary allocation for health. However, one fails to understand what steps parties like the ANP and MQM took to increase budgetary allocation for health during their time in power.

Malnutrition has become a key concern for the country. According to estimates, approximately 400,000 children die in Pakistan every year before their fifth birthday and 35pc of these deaths are attributed to malnutrition. What eludes us is how the various political parties are going to address this important issue.

Similarly, no specific agenda has been shared about what steps they would take to orient Pakistan or their respective provinces in the right direction towards achieving the MDGs.

Health workers and immunisation are of immense importance towards achieving the MDGs. However, these important areas do not find much space on the agendas of political parties except for a couple of them.

It has emerged from the review that hardly any political party appears to have a solid plan about how to go about ensuring the right of protection to children.

Millions of children are working as child labourers in Pakistan, including in the homes of politicians, while the number of children living and/or working on the streets is increasing.

Child marriage is still common, corporal punishment is widespread, internal trafficking of children, the use of children as child soldiers and suicide bombers and a poor criminal justice system for children are also some of the issues faced by minors.

The political parties in Pakistan need to come up with far firmer commitments to child rights, particularly children’s right to health and protection, than what they have indicated so far.

The focus should be on areas which can bring solid changes in key indicators like child and maternal mortality, the vaccination ratio, nutrition indicators, health workers’ coverage, protection of children from abuse, exploitation and violence against children, and above all policy, legislation and budgetary allocation for children.

The writer is a child rights activist.

Twitter: @amahmood72

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