Sunday July 14, 2024

Child protection

By Naeem Sadiq
February 15, 2020

Pakistan is faced with a burgeoning menace of child abuse amongst its ‘madressahs’, schools, domestic helpers, child labour and street children. Should there not be a more profound introspection of why we have failed and what must we do differently to protect our most vulnerable and precious resource?

What ought to be obvious by now should be the bitter realisation that some of the steps we have taken so far may appear good on paper, but except for consuming a lot of state resources have not added even an iota of protection to our children. The invisible National Commission on the Rights of Child and the ineffective Child Protection Departments could offer perfect examples of this tragedy. We also fail to realise that child abuse cannot be eliminated by foreign-funded NGOs or Unicef-funded helplines, SOPs, seminars and Child Protection Centres. Child protection calls for indigenous thinking and actions.

Pakistan has numerous child protection legislations. They are loaded with vague and conflicting requirements. They place no specific statutory child protection obligations on teachers, schools, ‘madrassas’, organisations or those who employ children for domestic or commercial work. This article suggests specific child protection measures which can be readily adopted by educational institutes on a voluntary basis and subsequently legislated as more experience is gained.

Each school and madressah must clearly state and prominently display – so as to be visible to all – its child protection policy. This could take the form of written statements such as: “All children have the right to a life free from physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional maltreatment. If you think that someone is trying to abuse you or has abused you, you must immediately call phone (----) and also inform any member of the Child Protection Committee. If a teacher or staff knows that a child: (a) has been harmed; (b) is being harmed; or (c) is at risk of being harmed, it shall be mandatory for him / her to report the matter, as soon as practicable, at phone ( ----) and to any member of the Child Protection Committee. Our school / madressah commits to zero tolerance for any form of child abuse and shall provide all possible protection and support to every child.”

Every school and madressah should establish a ‘Child Protection Committee’ (CPC), consisting of three to five senior staff members and led by the head of the institution. This committee’s name and responsibilities must also be prominently displayed at locations accessible to all children. Any student, teacher, staff or parent can report an allegation or suspicion that a child has been or may have been abused or neglected to any member of the CPC. On receiving the report, the CPC will immediately meet, speak to the concerned child and where required establish contact with the area police and the child protection officer.

The CPC will have the responsibility of ensuring that procedures relating to abuse reporting, recording and investigating are established. It will ensure that a continuous liaison is maintained with the local police, hospital and child protection officer. It will train and sensitise teachers and staff on issues relating to child protection and to observe and recognise possible signs of abuse. It will remain in frequent contact with children and provide age-appropriate awareness on matters relating to child rights and child abuse. It will be for the CPC to create an environment of trust and support on one hand and checks and balances on the other.

The CPCs shall also develop a mechanism to ensure that cases of child abuse are handled with tact, sensitivity and trust. Also that the affected child receives medical, social and emotional support and that state agencies like the police, hospitals and child protection are duly involved.

Voluntary adoption and implementation of such child protection systems by a number of schools and madressahs could lead the way for future legislation that requires a mandatory requirement for establishing such systems in all educational institutes.

The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance writer on social issues.