Understanding the Children’s Rights in Pakistan
Many social indicators give an extent of the progress achieved by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan concerning Children’s Rights during last 72 years. Access to health services, education and life expectancy has improved as the infant mortality rate and illiteracy have dropped. Even with everything, the full understanding of Children’s Rights is still needed a massive time and effort.
Main problems faced by children in Pakistan
More than 24% of the Pakistan population lives below the poverty line. This problem mainly affects rural areas. The state of the global markets is intensifying an already very difficult economic reality. The first sufferers of poverty are children, the weediest and most helpless, who see a complete denial of their rights: a lack of education, poor access to health services, discrimination, etc.
The socio-economic situation of the country is dreadful and forces families to make their children work. There are around 11 million children performing domestic tasks and working in agriculture. Other children work in the textile industry, construction, or even the automotive industry. Children in carpet factories sometimes work up to 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. Very often, sleeping, eating, and working are all done in the same place. This puts a considerable strain on their health; they work in very cramped conditions and in places detrimental to their health. It is not uncommon for them to suffer from respiratory problems, vision problems, or even deformations of the spinal column.
Poverty, physical and mental abuse, negligence, and family problems are the major factors that lead children to take refuge in the streets. However, once out on their own, they have very little chance of finding assistance and encounter dangers and excesses that are sometimes deadly to them. Hurt, sick and deprived of everything, for some prostitution becomes a way to earn a little money.
Sexual Exploitation of Children
Around 90% of the 170,000 street children in Pakistan are endangered to the sex trade, and it is assessed that only 20% of sexual abuse cases are reported. 60% of young victims accuse the police of being the criminals. Pakistan is also one of the only countries in the world where boys are almost more vulnerable to sexual abuse than girls.
In spite of the “Child Marriage Restraint Act”, this forbids the marriage of children; these marriages still take place in Pakistan. This law establishes the legal age of marriage as 18 years for men and 16 years for women, and failure to respect it could lead to sanctions. In practice, this law is not respected at all, and there are still many cases of forced marriage in the country. It is estimated that child marriage represents around 32% of local marriages. In rural areas; sometimes you can even observe a practice called “Vani Marriages”, which involves giving your daughter in marriage to settle a dispute or a debt between two parties. “The aggressor” offers one of his family’s daughters in compensation for a wrong caused. These marriages are very dangerous for the health of young girls who, as a result, run the risk of domestic violence, slavery, and rapes.
Displaced and Refugee Children
In Pakistan, armed conflicts are not the only factor pushing families to flee. The country also sees recurring natural disasters. Children who flee their homes need food, care, shelter, and drinkable water. In these dangerous living conditions, many displaced children suffer from illnesses not only caused by poor hygiene, but also by anxiety, stress, and depression. Furthermore, the situation of Afghani refugee children in Pakistan is no better. Born in Pakistan to Afghani parents and lacking refugee status, refugee children are not declared, and so they have no legal presence and are obscure under Pakistani law. Not speaking Urdu, the official language of the country, they don’t have access to the education of Pakistani schools and so find themselves, for the most part, in the streets working to survive.
Right of health In Pakistan
Regrettably, almost one child in six dies before the age of five. The nutritional status of children is much reduced: 35% of them are underweight; more than 50% suffer from stunted growth, and around 9% from emaciation. Each day, around 1,100 Pakistani children less than five years old die from diarrhea and illnesses related to water, sanitation, and hygiene. Access to care is a dare in rural areas where many families simply can’t afford basic healthcare. Furthermore, cyclical natural disasters have a strong impact on the health of people as well as infrastructures.
Right to Education
Only 71% of children attend primary school in Pakistan. This means that 23 million children are disadvantaged of education. Furthermore, the presence rate for education is higher among boys than girls. The government only allocates 1.8% of its national budget to education, which is clearly inadequate considering the necessity. The difficulties of public education are several: economic constraints, derelict or even dangerous buildings, lack of toilets, chairs, tables, periodic humanitarian crises etc. Furthermore, teachers are under-qualified, and it is not uncommon for children to leave school without knowing how to read or write. This is the case for almost 50% of school-going children ages 6 to 16 in Pakistan. “The lack of education feeds the frustration; without education, you can’t find work, you don’t have an acceptable salary. In Pakistan, 45% of the population is younger than 20. And the risk, at this moment, is to turn against society. This can also manifest itself in radicalized thought.”
Violence and Abuse
There is a distressing increase in the cases of abuse, kidnapping, and violence towards children in Pakistan. The numbers border the millions each year. This data is even more alarming if you study the fact that 80% of the cases are not reported. Abuse, domestic violence, rape, pedophilia, forced marriage, the cases of abuse are infinite, yet it is corporal punishment that represents the most common form of abuse. Parental negligence, the lack of awareness among children and society and also the absence of legal protection of children are creating still more victims of abuse among young Pakistanis.
Following the floods that affected Pakistan in 2010, children are feared to be even more vulnerable. The reports show that children are sold, rented, or even kidnapped in order to force them to beg, serve, and even to prostitute. In particular, cases were observed where young girls, sometimes minors from underprivileged backgrounds, were taken from towns in order to join the prostitution networks, with no protection, because the authorities are corrupt.
Children and Armed Conflicts
Pakistan is the theatre for numerous conflicts and confrontations (the Kashmir problem and the anti-Taliban struggle). Victims of suicide attacks, explosions and anti-personnel mines, and children pay heavy penalties with their health from these conflicts. Furthermore, these children are also deprived of their right to education because many schools are destroyed and some regions are subject to curfews.
Right to Identity
Around 70% of births are not officially reported to the Pakistani public authorities, making these children invisible in the eyes of society. The absence of regulations on births and a lack of information about the obligation to register them are the biggest hurdles to the realization of a complete birth registry. There is a great necessity to inform the general public about the problems that this could cause, such as the absence of official identity, nationality, or even the failure to respect the rights and practical needs of children.
Children and Justice
In the year 2000, Pakistan created the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) with the intention of creating an independent justice system adapted to minors. However, this system is still very weak and doesn’t offer real protection to minors who have problems with the law. In fact, in Pakistan, interned children see their rights violated every day: cases of torture, abuse, sexual assault etc. According to the NGO SPARC, the country has no justice system that is just and fair to minors. Children are neither protected nor separated from adults during their stay in prison. This influence can prove harmful for these youth, who risk following the path of law-breaking and crime.