By Arshad Mahmood
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group’s 14th session has begun at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Pakistan’s review is scheduled on Tuesday morning, October 30, 2012, while the report on Pakistan will be adopted on Friday November 2, 2012. The UPR is a United Nations review mechanism of the overall human rights situation of all UN Member States, by all UN Member States. This includes child rights issues.
The review is based on three reports: 1) the State’s national report, 2) a compilation of UN information on the State prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) and 3) a summary of other relevant stakeholders’ information, including NGOs’, prepared by the OHCHR. From Pakistan a number of stakeholders’ reports have been submitted by different civil society organizations focusing on different areas such as human rights, women’s rights, minorities’ situation, labour rights, right to information and child rights. I’ll briefly discuss the concerns and recommendations raised by the Child Rights Movement (CRM), a coalition of 108 national and international organizations working for child rights in Pakistan in its report.
The CRM report highlights the fact that there is no an independent body at the federal level with a statutory status for reporting, coordination and monitoring for the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and its Optional Protocols and have recommended that the Government of Pakistan should establish an independent National Commission on the Rights of Children (NCRC) by passing the long pending NCRC bill.
While highlighting the issue of malnutrition, the civil society report states that malnutrition is contributing to 35 percent of all under-5 deaths in Pakistan. According to UNICEF, 32 percent of infants have low birth-weight (recorded in 2006 and 2010). In 2010, the infant mortality rate was 70/1000 and under-5 mortality rate was 87/1000. As a result, Pakistan is at risk of failing to reach its MDGs targets on maternal and child health. Pakistan should take all legislative, administrative and other appropriate measures to develop and implement comprehensive food security and malnutrition prevention and response programmes recommended the CRM.
While highlighting the state of education in the country, the report stated that about 7 million children are not attending primary school in Pakistan; approximately 60 percent of these are girls. Accordingly, more than 50 million Pakistanis above 10 years of age are illiterate. Through a constitutional amendment education has been made a fundamental right of every child from 5 to 16 years of age in 2010. However, neither the federal nor provincial governments have introduced laws to implement the Article.
The report further states that Pakistan has ratified three conventions related to children: UNCRC, ILO’s Conventions 138 (the Minimum Age Convention) and 182 (Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour). However, little progress has been made in amending existing or introducing new legislation to comply with the provisions of these conventions.
The report highlights cases of severe torture and abuse of child domestic workers, and recommends that Pakistan either introduce new laws or amend existing laws to implement the provisions of these conventions. It also calls for a nationwide ban on child domestic labour under the Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991.
It further raises child protection issues like corporal punishment and child marriages and calls for immediate passing of the long awaited Prohibition of Corporal Punishment and the Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bills. These two bills will prohibit corporal punishment and raise the minimum marriageable age for girls from 16 to 18 years, along with strict penalties for violations.
Stark statistics related to the number of child sexual abuse cases (1,839 in 2008, 2,012 in 2009, 2,595 in 2010) were also featured in the CRM report. On average, six children are sexually assaulted every day, but only a fraction of all cases are reported due to social taboo. It recommends that Pakistan ensure all professionals working on the front line with children, such as teachers, medical professionals, school counselors, and police personnel, are sensitized and trained to respond appropriately to child sexual abuse, including prevention, detection and management.
Additionally, there are an estimated 1.2 million children living and or working on the streets in major cities of Pakistan. Following the floods in 2010 and 2011, and ongoing conflict in the tribal areas, there has been a surge of street children. The federal and provincial governments in Pakistan must support mechanisms for rehabilitation and reunification of children living and or working on the streets as the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) is not well-known among law enforcement agencies and officials are generally not sensitized or qualified to deal with children’s issues.
This means that harsh punishments including death sentence and life imprisonment can be imposed upon children. The Government of Pakistan should take measures to ensure that the JJSO overrides other laws in cases involving children and take solid steps for the implementation of the JJSO including the establishment of exclusive juvenile courts, appointment of probation officers and budgetary allocation.
Similarly, the minimum age for criminal responsibility that currently stands at 7 years should be increased immediately to an internationally accepted level (i.e. 12 years). Furthermore, Pakistan ratified the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography in October 2011, but the implementation side has failed yet again. The Child Protection (Criminal Law) Amendment Bill 2009, which would not only raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility but will also provide for preventive and protective measures against sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, is still pending to be placed before the National Assembly of Pakistan for enactment.
Pakistan has introduced the Action in Aid for Civil Power Regulations (AACPRs) for the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and Provincially Administrated Tribal Areas. These regulations allow for the confinement of an individual for 120 days without the authority of the magistrate. It further states that for 120 days, there will be no legal representation or trial allowed, and a single statement by an official from the Law Enforcement Agencies is sufficient to prove a suspect guilty of an offence and set a death sentence and cannot be challenged at any other legal forum. This has to be abolished immediately, with proper administrative and judicial procedures applied in its place.
These issues clearly highlight the state of affairs in Pakistan where child rights are concerned. It is high time that both the federal and provincial legislature respond to the state of child rights in Pakistan and immediately enact all pending bills related to child rights. Similarly, budgetary allocation should also be made to ensure that the laws are not limited to law books only and a visible change is witnessed in the child rights situation in the country.
The writer is Senior Manager Advocacy, Pakistan Programme and tweets @Every1Pak & @amahmood72