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January 22, 2018

Proper network to help children yet to be set up


January 22, 2018

LAHORE : Since its inception 14 years ago the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) has yet to establish a proper network on ground for extending help to the destitute and neglected children envisaged in The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act (PDNCA) 2004.

Going by the figures, though, the Bureau seems to have achieved some sort of success. According to the progress report of the CPWB from 2005-2017, 48,449 children were rescued, while it succeeded in reuniting 42,807 children with their families during the same period. Among the children rescued during the same period, 6,706 were runaways, 108 victims of domestic violence, 11,935 beggars, 3,874 missing children and 612 were admissions, while another 25,214 were registered under different other categories. Sahil, an NGO which monitors child abuse in the country, in its report (2007-11 and 2014-17) says 23,904 cases of child abuse were registered, and 15, 146 destitute children were exposed to child abuse only in Punjab. These numbers definitely overshadow the performance of the Bureau.

The CPWB has eight working Child Protection Units (CPU) in Lahore, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Rahimyar Khan, Bahawalpur, Multan, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad. Another CPU was set up in Kasur in November last year. Interestingly, CPUs are yet to be built in 12 districts even after 14 years of the Bureau’s inception.

The CPUs have Open Reception Centres established at busy points with a view to making easy access of travelling children to them. Places like bus stands and railway stations have been chosen for the purpose.

More interesting is the fact that there are just three operational Open Reception Centres in Lahore. However, these open receptions haven’t been conspicuously marked to help people to access them because they are found abandoned most of the time. When The News visited one of the centres at Railway Station, it was locked. When inquired about the staff, they excused for being on a field visit.

The Bureau is struggling with mere 541 of workforce for fulfilling its tasks across Punjab. Under the law, the Bureau may appoint child protection officers to carry out surveys and raids wherever required for recovering homeless and runaway children. This field staff of the Bureau is required to monitor the already registered orphanages, shelter homes for children and conduct raids on illegal similar setups with the help of the local police.

In addition to the already discussed task, the Bureau has the duty of keeping a vigil in the city for finding destitute and neglected children roaming around. The performance of their field staff is below par, as there are 1,000 NGOs which are working for children’s welfare, and not a single one is registered with the Bureau. After the amendment to PDNCA about mandatory registration of shelter homes, the Bureau has advertised to attract the organisations working for children welfare, orphanage and shelter homes to register with the Bureau, but, unfortunately, not a single orphan house or shelter home has approached CPWB for registration. Talking to The News, Dr Faiza Asghar, the first chairperson of CPWB, lamented the downgrading of the Bureau, saying this was not the first department which was sacrificed on the altar of politics. “We worked 24/7 and my team was fully committed to their duties. We registered seven shelter homes and monitored 400 NGOs who were working for children’s welfare. Eighteen gangs of human trafficking were clamped down and we initiated legal action against them. After the end of my tenure, nothing remarkable has been done so far to safeguard the future of destitute and neglected children,” she said. Different NGOs and shelter homes told The News that no one had approached them for the procedure of registration and it was not compulsory to get registered with CPWB as they were already registered with Social Welfare Department. Clearly, they are not aware of the latest amendment to the law about the mandatory registration with the CPWB.

The CPWB has both the mandate under the law and resources at hand to execute its authority to regulate mushroom growth of child rehabilitation centres under its fold for monitoring and accountability, but it had gone off-track in achieving its objectives. In 2014-15, CPWB had received an annual allocation of Rs360.016 million in the budget and it only managed to spend Rs176.359 million while the remaining amount of Rs183.657 million had lapsed, which reflected the non-seriousness and inefficiency of the CPWB authorities and their betrayal to the cause.

Similarly, in 2015-16, CPWB received Rs529.463 million and surrendered Rs217.645 million after its annual expenditures of Rs273.905 million. In 2016-17, CPWB got Rs400 million in budget and it demanded additional budget for development, but there is hardly any progress towards its desired objective. For the current fiscal, Rs442 million have been earmarked for CPWB under the annual development budget.

If we calculate the budget of 2014-2015 and 2016, a total amount of Rs850.264 million had been spent to rescue 16,330 children in the last three years.

Child Protection Welfare Bureau Chairperson Saba Sadiq said that the Bureau would wait until the deadline for the registration, and after that will form a monitoring unit, which would go out in the field and monitor the shelter homes or orphanages. “Till today, we don’t know how many of illegal shelter homes are functional and whether human trafficking or other activities are going on there,” she added. However, this is very inopportune that CPWB, after 14 years of its establishment, had woken up to act to bring an amendment to the law for mandatory registration by the child rehabilitation centres, while it is still struggling to achieve the objective of welfare of destitute, abandoned and homeless children due to paucity of required human resource and ill management of budget utilisation.

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