Chairperson, 4th July 2021
National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC).
Thank you for inviting me to join the Strategic Planning Consultation to be held on 6th July at Moven Pick Hotel, Karachi. I am deeply grateful and consider it a great honour. This issue is close to my heart besides being absolutely critical for developing an abuse-free society that nurtures and protects its children.
For the last two decades or so, I do not recall attending any seminar in a five-star hotel. There are two reasons for that. Firstly these joints represent the worst form of capitalistic corporate consumer culture. They are environmental disasters engaged in consuming thousands of plastic mineral water bottles, wasting large quantities of food, guzzling 5-8 times more water per person per day as compared to normal citizens of the city and releasing their entire untreated raw sewage into open nullahs and ultimately to the sea.
The second reason for avoiding such a high-cost seminar is the issue of funding. This seminar is funded either by the government of Pakistan (NCRC being a government organization) or by a donor agency. In the first case, one must never be an (additional) burden on the tax payer, and in the second case, an honourble people must learn to hold their own seminars and eat their own meals without leaning on foreign donors.
I hope you will understand and accept my compulsions for not physically joining this distinguished gathering.
Now on the issue of child protection.
Over the past many years, I have tried hard to understand the causes of the worsening scenario of child protection in Pakistan and what may be done about it. I have consistently expressed my views in newspapers so as to make them transparent and public to citizens as well as government functionaries and institutions. However these solutions being non-glamourous, often identifying bitter realities and demanding out-of-the-box actions, find little traction with the decision makers. I enclose below a summary of my views, that may also be considered as my input for the forthcoming 6th July 2021 Planning Consultation. I would request that these be also shared with the other participants of the seminar, as a perspective sharing exercise.
The Eight Roadblocks to Child Protection in Pakistan.
Our existing institutional mechanisms, infrastructure and policies provide a nurturing environment for the promotion of sex abuse in general and child abuse, in particular. Let me state eight basic factors that support this reasoning and what can be done to improve child protection in Pakistan.
First, the government has no data on the number, name or location of 60% children under the age of six years. It has no data on the number of madrasas or the teachers and students enrolled therein. It has no data on the number of incidents of child abuse, other than what may be reported by a private NGO.
Actions needed: NCRC ought to work with NADRA and if required hire the best IT professionals to create a simple, one-shot, at-birth child registration system instead of the present cumbersome 3 stage, affidavit, notary public and Union Council driven registration system.
Second, no attempt has been made to implement a formal child protection policy in schools and madrasas across Pakistan.
Actions needed: NCRC ought to develop this and push for its implementation in all schools in Pakistan. A number of citizens would be happy to volunteer help in developing this policy, which can be done in days and not years.
Third, with 25 million children out of school and millions working as labourers in streets, homes and factories, we have created the perfect conditions and opportunities for child abuse.
Actions needed: NCRC to work with government to ensure that every child goes to school. (A keen government ought to do it without being prodded by NCRC.) Children under 16 be prevented from being used in ANY kind of industrial , commercial or domestic labour. This voice ought to be raised by NCRC. It must create and monitor mechanisms to relocate such children to government’s child protection homes – which are, as of now, largely non-existent in most provinces.
Fourth, the employment laws for children and the Constitution of Pakistan are in fact ‘supportive’ of child labour by falsely defining ‘child’ as someone below the age of 14 and by allowing children below 14 years to work as domestic help.
Actions needed: NCRC to move a bill through the government to change Article 11(3) of the Constitution to read as, “No child below the age of 16 shall be engaged or made to work in any factory, establishment, mine or as domestic worker.” All provinces should be asked to define “Child” as some one under the age of 18 and all laws of employment of children across Pakistan be made consistent with the proposed revision in Article 11(3) of the Constitution.
Fifth, the child protection organisations, commissions and authorities in Pakistan are complex, jargonised and self-consuming bureaucratic structures. Keen on operating at a sanitised ‘policy’ level, they have little ability or inclination to bring any changes in the existing dysfunctional processes.
Actions needed: Seminars, TV shows, glossy reports, strategic workshops may not be altogether unnecessary, but to bank on them as instruments of change could keep one looking busy and going nowhere for ever. Thus the Child Protection Institutions of Pakistan need to change gear and take practical steps on “Actions Needed” mentioned under each of the eight identified barriers listed in this report. Merely focusing on individual TV- reported incidents may be fine for TV channels and may be fine for fire-fighting, but does not help in building child protection institutions.
Sixth, our failure to realise that extreme poverty makes people force their children to work as domestic, commercial, kiln or mine workers is not an assumption but a reality. How come the NCRC has not realized that half of our workforce gets less than minimum legal wages and 90 percent of our workforce has no EOBI or Social security registration. This may be called “planned breeding” of poverty and child-abuse.
Actions needed: Ensuring Min wages, EOBI and Social Security for all must be the loudest slogan and demand of the NCRC. It must approach the concerned government departments to ensure compliance to these laws. Poverty, neglect and child abuse are deeply interlinked and here again there are citizens who could happily volunteer to extend help to NCRC.
Seventh, the formation of the already legally-mandated organisation, ZARRA, has been willfully delayed. This has deprived the children of Pakistan from an Emergency Help line, a national data base, a national monitoring system and a national alarm and rescue system. Government should stop advertising a fake and dysfunctional legal-aid helpline (1099) as a National Child Support Helpline.
Actions Needed: NCRC should publicly and directly demand from the Prime Minister to establish the legally mandated ZARRA, not on papers but in reality, and appoint its Dir. Gen and other functionaries, so that it can genuinely begin to perform its above-mentioned functions.
And finally, what trumps all other factors is the daily addition of 16,787 new children in a compound that is already splitting at the seams. Yet the government is absolutely oblivious of this disaster. On the contrary it has abolished the ministry for population planning and replaced it with some obscure, non-functioning organisation in each province. There are cosmetic Task Forces in each province who cosmetically meet to make the files fatter but do nothing on the ground.
Actions needed: NCRC ought to take a firm stand to demand that the government ought to take practical steps to bring down the Fertility Rate to 2.1, if there has to be any improvement in the area of child protection in Pakistan. Once again there are citizens who have already prepared comprehensive family planning programs and could happily volunteer to help the NCRC on how to go about tackling this difficult task.
It is strongly urged that the NCRC adopts the above mentioned 8 points not just in its future agenda but also in its immediate “things to do” list. Not doing so and limiting oneself to seminars and reports would be no more useful than rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
With warm regards and best wishes for the success of NCRC.