Children are the most beautiful and innocent creation of Allah Almighty and childhood is a wonderful phase of everyone’s life. Children are supposed to enjoy this period before growing up to face actual challenges of life. But, unfortunately, children of today are facing numerous issues ranging from child labour to child abuse and so on. Like many other countries, in Pakistan too children are deprived of their basic rights as provided by the law of the land and a plethora of international covenants. They are being denied their fundamental right to education and to good nourishment. They are employed as labour in factories and workshops while many of them fall prey to the menace of child trafficking. The protections and remedies provided by country’s law seem effective on paper only because their implementation is hardly cared about. The situation has now reached at an alarming stage.
Let’s start with Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, which gives a clear message with guaranteed basic right to education. It states, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
According to UNICEF Pakistan and UNESCO Institute for Statistic (UIS) report 2013, so far 6.5 million children are not even getting primary education, while 2.7 million of them are away from lower secondary school.
According to Alif Ailaan Report, the number of Out-Of-School Children (OOSC) is 25.02 million, second largest in the world.
In the recent months, the examination season for school- and college-going children has been in full swing. An annual examination was conducted by all educational boards across Pakistan. During the exam, the government imposed Section 144 CrPC restricting thereby the assembly of unauthorized persons in a group near examination centres within a radius of 400 metres and also banning photocopy facility in the area. But, we witnessed its flagrant violations. “Naqal Mafia” won the battle and, through their actions, mocked the claims made by the federal and provincial governments.
Students were openly provided with guide books, notes and each and every material that could help them in solving the paper, and, above all, even solved papers. But, by involving in such corrupt practices, the exam-takers were actually destroying their future with their own hands. Although a few raids by government officers were seen yet no solid gains were seen in terms of curbing the cheating and discouraging such rogue elements.
Alas, this didn’t happen for the first time. This might continue to happen if we don’t try to nab such elements who are spoiling the future of children by teaching them the tricks to inoculate germs of cheating in them.
On the contrary, many students, who worked really hard to pass the examination with flying colours, felt utterly discouraged when they saw their fellow students likely to get high marks by employing unfair means.
There are numerous diseases from which our education system is suffering. Few of them are: parents’ reluctance to send their children to school especially girls in rural areas, poor infrastructure of government schools, lack of teachers as well as schools in remote areas, corporal punishment and high tuition fees charged by private institutions.
And when young children cannot avail themselves of educational opportunities, they join the menacingly burgeoning child labour. On 12th June 2016, “World Day Against Child Labour” under the theme “End Child Labour in Supply Chain” was observed with seminars, walks, workshops for spreading awareness against child labour. But, what is perplexing is that despite all this, the number of ill-fated children in Pakistan is still more than 10 million despite the fact that our country’s constitution states that “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment.” (Article 11(3)).
According to International Labour Organization (ILO) Survey 2012, there are 12.5 million children working as labour in Pakistan. Reportedly, Pakistan has the 3rd largest child labour workforce in the world; after Mauritania and Haiti. This shows the apathy of government toward this issue.
The menace of child labour shatters the dreams of country’s future generations. This is an unfortunate fact that some parents compel their kids to work and earn money for them while some are made to send their children for work as they couldn’t pay their debts to landlords or lenders especially in rural areas. In both situations, minors and their future suffer.
Another issue which leaves devastating bruises on children’s physical and mental health is their exposure to child abuse or child molestation. According to one recent study conducted by an NGO named ‘Sahil’, which works exclusively on child exploitation and sexual abuse, the incidences of child abuse increased by 4.3% in the first six months of 2015 as compared to first half of 2014. Sahil claims that more than 3,500 cases of child molestation were reported in 2014.
In August 2015, a major child pornography scandal that emerged from Punjab’s Kasur district astounded the nation. Reportedly some 380 children, including girls, were molested and sodomised. Victims were later blackmailed by a gang who had videotaped this repulsive act. Many such incidents go unreported because people consider this will hurt their family’s prestige and reputation.
This scandal, though belatedly, opened the eyes of the government and the Senate passed a bill that criminalised child molestation, trafficking and pornography. As per this piece of legislation, sexual assault against minors and child pornography will be punishable by 7 years and penalty of Rs 0.7 million. This is a welcome step and needs urgent implementation.
Malnutrition is another most common and dangerous risk factor for the children living in Pakistan. With low social protection and economic potential, as many as 45% of all child deaths occur due to malnutrition or due to deficiency of vitamins and minerals required for growth. More than 200 children died in Thar district of Sindh in the first quarter of 2016 due to malnutrition. Incumbent government needs to take urgent steps to resolve the health issues for the protection of their own children.
Child marriage is yet another issue which needs urgent attention of our legislators as well as civil society as about 3% of girls are married before they attain the age of 15 years and 21% are married before reaching 18 years.
The future of 1.2-1.5 million street children is also at risk. Street children are often found on urban streets living without any shelter, economic support and parental guidance. Street children are most vulnerable to become drug addicts, criminals and victims of child prostitution.
Bright future of children having low economic or social profile isn’t the responsibility of solely government and NGOs but everyone will have to play his/her role to protect the country’s future generation. If we can’t do anything, then there is no need to come out on roads and chant slogan in favour of children to mark “World Day Against Child Labour”. We have to shun hypocrisy and take real steps to save children from falling prey to ills that ruin their future.