In spite of being a signatory to the United Nations Millennium Declaration that was agreed upon in September 2000 in New York, Pakistan has been struggling to meet its targets as its performance regarding the goal pertaining to the most vulnerable segment of society has not been satisfactory. Pakistan’s record in prioritizing and also ensuring children’s rights has not been commendable, especially in the context of comprehensive policy intervention, it is almost entirely missing. Although a plethora of laws on children rights are there in place, most of them having been enacted or reinforced in the last fifteen years, yet a comprehensive and coherent mechanism for their implementation seems to be an uphill task not only for the government but also for the whole society.
The Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 guarantees the provision of fundamental rights. Article 11 of the Constitution particularly pertains to children. It clearly states that “…No child below the age of 14 years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment.” Furthermore, Pakistan also agreed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child that became effective on 2nd September 1990.
After 18th amendment to the constitution, the subject of children’s rights has been devolved to the provinces. But, they have not come up with an integrated approach and a pragmatic policy to ensure and safeguard the rights of children. The present state of affairs does not augur well in this regard if we have a cursory look at the data available.
At present, the literacy rate in Pakistan hovers around 60% — female literacy rate is nearly 48%. Almost 70% population of the country lives in rural areas where basic amenities like health and education still remains a far cry, particularly in backward and most neglected areas. Even today, 25 million children are out of school despite hectic government efforts to focus on formal schooling system in far-off areas. It can be imagined how miserable conditions would be of those children who will become a part of huge unemployed workforce of Pakistan. According to International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics on Pakistan (2012), unemployment ratio is 5.1%. Lack of effective implementation mechanism tacitly encourages market forces to engage in child labour. They, in fact, use children as minting machines to multiply their own income but it is earned at the expense of these children’s lives.
There are more than 40 million children in Pakistan who fall within the age bracket of 5 to 14 years. Out of these, 2.7 million are employed only in the agricultural sector and among them more than 70% are boys. It means that we are pushing our future generation into perpetual, abject poverty as they will be deprived of education, health and other basic services. Thereby the gap between the haves and the have-nots shall increase and the state will find it as an insurmountable task to rectify the pathetic situation.
Only the government cannot rise to this challenge. Unless the society in general, and those who are privileged and advantaged in particular, come forward to resolve this crisis, nothing substantial can be achieved. General awareness supported by an effective and firm implementation of child rights laws are of utmost importance if the situation is to be meliorated. We have to realize that in order to bequeath a prosperous Pakistan to our future generations, we must bring a fundamental change in thinking pattern of our society and ensure sustainable development with equal opportunities for all.
Government efforts to incentivize parents through provision of free books and free education up to matriculation have not been able to achieve the desired results. One of the reasons behind this phenomenon is the rising poverty which compels parents to push their children into labour instead of sending them to school. The situation is even bleaker when it comes to girls and this leads to the child marriage conundrum. That is the reason why infant and mother mortality rates are higher in Pakistan as compared to other countries of South Asia.
Only 2.1% of GDP for education is not, at all, a sufficient allocation to expect any substantial change in education sector. Similarly other areas like health, social security also remain neglected. Consequently, the menace of child labour persists.
Becoming a party to any international law or incorporating international bindings in domestic laws or making policies with tall claims does not solve the problem. This problem can be overcome only if we allocate a significant portion of the GDP to this cause. One major reason behind neglect of this important area of our social life is the everlasting presence of political instability and incessant bickering among the political leaders. Though political parties make huge promises at the time of elections, yet no political commitment or priority is reflected in their policies when they come to power. It’s high time our political elite demonstrated strong political will and made policies to take Pakistan on the heights of prosperity where there is peace, freedom, tolerance and equal opportunities for all and where children go to school, not workshops or factories.