The population of children in Pakistan is over 70 million. The environment in which the majority of these children grow up is fraught with numerous challenges and their access to basic rights such as health care, education, protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation, are all compromised. The current security and economic crisis in the country has worsened the situation. Violence against children—including sexual abuse & exploitation, domestic violence, and forced marriage—remained a serious problem. In June, a tribal council (jirga) in Khyber agency ordered the “honor” killing of Naghma, a 13-year-old girl, for “running away with men.” Parliament had passed in February a controversial bill giving legal cover to tribal and village councils.
The brutal rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab has once against highlighted an issue that is seldom talked about: the rampant sexual abuse of children in Pakistan. The rape and murder of Zainab got the attention of social media and subsequently the mainstream media also picked up the story, otherwise Zainab’s murder would have proved to be just another addition to the statistics.
Child marriage remained a serious concern, with 21 percent of girls in Pakistan marrying before the age of 18, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Attacks on schools and the use of children in suicide bombings by the Taliban and affiliated armed extremist groups continued during the year.
Over 22.6 million primary-school-age children are still out of school, most of them girls. National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) – a subsidiary of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training found girls miss school for reasons including lack of schools, costs associated with studying, child bearing, and gender discrimination.
One-third of all children are underweight, 44pc are stunted and more than 15pc are wasted, half of them are anemic and almost one-third of these children have iron-deficiency anemia.
In June, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights invited Pakistan to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, which proposes steps to protect schools from attacks and military use during wartime. Pakistan has not yet endorsed the declaration.
Article 12 of the UNCRC establishes the right of children to be involved in decisions that affect them, both as individuals and as a group. This right to be heard and taken seriously is one of the fundamental values of the Convention. It is not only a free-standing right, but the Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified Article 12 as one of its four general principles. In other words, it must be considered in the implementation of all other rights, and as one of the general measures of implementation of the UNCRC. Despite recognition in international law through the UNCRC that child participation is a fundamental human right, and despite the powerful arguments as to the benefit it brings, there is still considerable resistance to its realization in terms of policies, law making and advocacy for children. This is the time for Prime Minister Imran Khan to be the advocate for Pakistan’s children rights by inviting children from every district of Pakistan to meet them and ensure their participation in making their safeguard policies and laws after taking oath as PM.