Every right for every child

Protecting and promoting children’s rights and welfare requires diligent effort

Every right for every child


he Universal Children’s Day, observed on November 20, serves as a global call to action for the protection and enhancement of children’s rights.

In Pakistan, like in many parts of the world, the celebration of this day comes with a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the children of the nation, particularly in the implementation of crucial legislation. As we commemorate Universal Children’s Day 2023, let us not only acknowledge the progress made but also renew our commitment to surmounting the challenges that hinder the exercise of children’s rights.

A brighter future for Pakistani children requires collaborative efforts, legislative diligence and unwavering dedication to their well-being and protection.

The UN convention states that “all human beings under the age of 18 are considered children.“ Unfortunately, millions of children confront threats to their physical, mental and emotional well-being as a result of a variety of issues such as poverty, insufficient healthcare, nutrition, environmental challenges and disasters. Many children in Pakistan are also vulnerable to physical, psychological and sexual abuse, exploitation and violence. Child trafficking and economic exploitation are still prevalent, posing severe hazards to children’s safety.

The Juvenile Justice System Act of 2018 was passed with the hope of a fair and compassionate legal framework for children in conflict with the law. However, its effective implementation is still a dream. Rules necessary for the proper execution of this law are yet to be notified across all provinces and territories except Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the rules were passed in 2023. Children entangled in legal complexities often face undue hardships. This demands the establishment of juvenile justice committees for diversion purposes, effective functioning of probation officers in every district, district legal aid committees for the provision of free and expeditious legal aid, rehabilitation centres, observation homes for investigation and remand processes.

In 2016, parliamentarians responded to the issue of child cruelty with a criminal law amendment bill that included Section 328-A of the PPC, which criminalises child cruelty. However, Section 89, which, in the name of “discipline” or “good faith” allows punishers and caretakers to maltreat children, still awaits suitable amendment.

It is worth noting that our superior courts are also vigilant in this regard. In the Tayyaba torture case, the Supreme Court established a standard for deciding when an act might result in “cruelty to a child.” In a writ petition filed by Zindagi Trust, the Islamabad High Court was pleased to rule that “Corporal punishments are inconsistent with the constitutionally guaranteed right to life.”

Following the direction in the writ petition, Syed Miqdad Mehdi vs Government of the Punjab, in Lahore High Court, the legislation for the prohibition of Corporal Punishment is on the way.

A brighter future for Pakistani children requires collaborative efforts, legislative diligence and unwavering dedication to their well-being and protection.

The Sindh, ICT, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have addressed the issue through legislative measures.

The Ministry of National Health Services took a significant step in May 2017 by producing the National Guidelines on Maternal and Perinatal Death Surveillance and Response system to address a different facet of child welfare. Developed in collaboration with UN partners, including the World Health Organisation and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and in consultation with provincial stakeholders, these guidelines aimed to curb maternal and perinatal mortality rates in Pakistan. These guidelines were designed to provide a comprehensive framework for the systematic collection, reporting and analysis of maternal and perinatal death data and to establish a response mechanism to prevent future deaths, representing a critical step towards safeguarding the lives of mothers and newborns.

The importance of such guidelines cannot be overstated. These contribute significantly to the promulgation of legislation on the MPDSR in all jurisdictions in Pakistan. Sindh emerged as a pioneer by introducing legislation in 2022 to establish a maternal and perinatal death surveillance reporting system by amending The Sindh Reproductive Healthcare Rights Act, 2019. This move is pivotal in preventing avoidable deaths and aligns with the recognition of the right to life as a fundamental human right.

The legislation to form a National Commission for Child Rights was passed in 2017. The NCRC has just launched a process on many child rights issues, including the problem of child domestic labour. The NCRC has made significant efforts for legislation and to criminalise in order to combat modern-day slavery and calls upon provincial governments to take immediate legislative actions, reinforcing child labour laws to eradicate this menace.

On this Universal Children’s Day, we must speak out against the horrific ordeals endured by children stuck in conflict zones, particularly in places like Gaza, where conflict has been a devastating reality. According to Save the Children, “No child in Gaza is safe at the moment. Over 4,400 children have been killed in the last month. That surpasses the annual number of children killed across the world’s conflict zones since 2019. With the death toll climbing, a humanitarian catastrophe has unfolded. Children are at risk and terrified.“

Keeping all biases aside, the international community, must show unity to address the special needs of these young victims on an emergency basis. Concerted efforts are essential to bring solace, assistance and a sense of normalcy to these children.

The writer is a children’s rights activist and law practitioner in Lahore. His X handle: @miqdadnaqvi

Every right for every child