Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The menace of child labour

The government of Punjab’s promulgation of the Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016 is a commendable step. It is recognition of the long struggle of civil society against child labour in Pakistan and acceptance of the fact the child labour is a reality and not a myth created by non- governmental organizations and international community. Steps for the implementation of the Ordinance and great interest of the Chief Minister Mian Shehbaz Sharif in ensuring eradication of child labour from the brick kilns of Punjab also proves that where there is a will there is a way. Once the political leadership is determined, then nobody knows better than them how to fix complex issues like eradication of child labour.

I would however, like to get the attention of the chief minister of Punjab and the entire political leadership of Pakistan towards a few related socio-economic and cultural aspects which requires to be considered while embarking on a roadmap for the eradication of child labour. There is no second opinion that child labour must be eradicated and all children of the school going age must go to schools and get education and this is the fundamental right of all children of Pakistan under Article 25-A of the Constitution.

The federal and respective provincial governments should not limit eradication of child labour to brick kilns only and also touch upon some equally worst forms of child labour such as child domestic labour, child labour in fisheries (Sindh), child labour in mines (Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and all other worst forms of child labour mentioned under various schedules of banned occupations of the Employment of Children Act 1991. Article 11(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan also prohibits the employment of children below age 14 in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment.

Child domestic labour is one of the worst forms of child labour and approximately 50 cases of torture and violence against child domestic workers were reported in media since Shazia Masih’s tragic and cruel murder in January 2010 in Lahore. Irum (Lahore) Fizza Batool (Lahore) Jamil (Multan) Yasmin (Okara) Shehzad (Gujranwala) Tehmina (Islamabad) were all tortured to death in the four walls of their masters’ houses. These cases show that child domestic labour is one of the deadliest forms of child labour in Pakistan. However, the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan have failed to respond to the situation.

The federal government is required to put an immediate ban on child domestic labour by adding child domestic labour in the schedule of banned occupations under the Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991 through a notification in official Gazette. Similarly, like child labour in brick kilns, the Chief Minister Punjab should also take a proactive action and immediately ban child domestic labour under the schedule of banned occupations of the Punjab Employment of Children (Amendment) Act 2011 and begin with banning child domestic labour in the houses of the government servants and parliamentarians.

For resolving the issue of child labour on sustainable basis in Pakistan, the federal and provincial governments should make serious efforts to implement Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan about right to free and compulsory education for children 5 to 16. The Government of Punjab should immediately notify the rules of the Punjab Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014 and make sufficient budgetary allocation for the implementation of the law. An Education Commission should be established to monitor implementation of the Punjab Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014 so that the law is not limited to law books only.

The government of Punjab should also ensure implementation of the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 1992 to ensure elimination of the “Peshgi” system whereby families of brick kilns workers are mortgaged through payment of Peshgi or advance and then they are compelled to make their entire family work to be able to pay back the advance which they are never able to pay off. Similarly, all brick kilns should be registered as factories and brick kilns owners to be made responsible for getting their workers registered with the Employees Old Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and Employees Social Security Institutions (ESSI). To register with the EOBI, an employer has to contribute about Rs700 per registered employee per month. In the case of SESSI, the employer has to pay 6% of the salary of each registered worker per month and that’s why most of the brick kilns workers are deprived of these important social security benefits.

All the federal and provincial governments including the government of Punjab should take active measures to ensure effective implementation of the minimum wage laws. Poor implementation of the Minimum Wage Ordinance 1961 is one of the key reasons of parents’ poverty and subsequently engaging their children in child labour. In Punjab the minimum wages for unskilled labour are Pak Rupees 12,000 per month. I don’t think any unskilled worker is getting these minimum wages and the Minimum Wage Board is not effective if it exists at all. The government of Punjab should ensure implementation of minimum wages of Pak Rupees 962 per 1000 bricks for brick kiln workers. Even this meager amount is not paid in full to the poor kiln workers.

For improving the overall labour situation, there is a need to strengthen the labour inspection machinery. This is also important for sustaining our Generalized System of Preference (GSP) Plus status by the European Union. Pakistan has ratified all eight International Labour Organization’s core Conventions however; implementation of these Conventions has been poor so far. For the effective implementation of the labour laws, the labour inspection system is of critical importance and the government of Punjab must focus on putting in place an effective labour inspection system which will be very helpful in ensuring implementation of all labour laws including those related to child labour, forced and bonded labour, minimum wage and social security etc. Once all the labour laws are implemented in letter and spirit, child labour will be eliminated automatically and children will go to schools and vocational training institutes instead and gradually we will have mechanized and technical labour force in place which will have positive impact on the country’s exports and reduction in exploitation of the poor labour force.

The writer is a human rights activist and development practitioner with a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics (LSE) and tweets at @amahmood72

The article was published in Express Tribune on March 30, 2016





Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tharparkar failing

For the past few years it has become a norm that a few hundred newborn babies and infants will die in Sindh’s beautiful Tharparkar dessert every year. Conflicting figures are quoted in the media and by the government functionaries about the number of deaths and their causes. Even if one fully agrees with the official version, unfortunately however, there are no visible actions on part of the government of Sindh and the federal government, keeping in mind the severity of the issue and without going into provincial or federal subject debate, to tackle the deadly issue on sustainable basis. As a result, we see the inhabitants of Mithi offering special prayers in temples amid rising death toll of children and their helplessness. Irrespective of the fact whether 200 plus children died in the past 50 odd days or 75 newborns and infants breathed their last in Tharparkar’s hospitals, even a single preventable death is criminal. Why are we unable to respond to this situation?

Child health and nutrition experts and child rights activists believe that it’s because of the lack of understanding at the decision making level about the issue and the lack of political will to respond to it. If someone is going to look at it and try to resolve it from the health perspective only, then we will continue to see such horrific figures of newborns deaths for the years to come as is the case for the past few years. It should be understood that there are multiple factors for the current situation in Tharparkar and there is a need for multi sectoral interventions to address the social, economic and cultural reasons behind this mayhem. Similarly, responding to malnutrition also requires multi sectoral approach involving health, education, social protection, water and sanitation, agriculture and private sector with a high level commitment from leadership to plan and implement multi-sectoral interventions.

According Lancet findings and leading nutrition and child health experts in the world including Pakistani experts, most of the irreversible damage due to malnutrition happens during conception and in the first 24 months of life meaning that risk begins from the day of conception to up to two years of age also referred to as the first 1000 days. Poor nutrition for mothers during pregnancy, too few calories, poor quality of food (e.g. micronutrients), repeated infections (e.g. diarrhoea, malaria), poor feeding practices (e.g. not feeding colostrum) etc. are some of the major causes of malnutrition in Pakistan and Tharparkar is no different rather these issues are much severe there because of poverty, poor water and sanitation resources, lack of education, child marriages, lack of family planning and lack of health facilities in far flung areas like Nangarparkar which makes the situation worse.

The nutrition challenge facing Sindh is substantial. Sindh has a dangerously high rate of nutritional stunting among children under age 5 (49.8%) as compared to 43.7% of the national average. The prevalence of underweight children is 40.5% as compared to 31.5% of the national average, while wasting prevalence is 17.5% as compared to 15.1% of the national average. As per World Health Organization’s standards, a national average of 15% or above is labeled as an “EMERGENCY”. These figures have not changed significantly in the past decade and require special attention at all levels. I believe the figures in Thar region will be even worse than the provincial figures for Sindh.

Since the Tharparkar child deaths are viewed as something related to malnutrition and health, the whole focus is on health response which is not something new. Traditionally, in Pakistan, nutrition has been viewed as a problem to be looked after only by the health sector planning commission or Ministry of Health at the federal level and Department of Health at the provincial level. This narrow approach then excludes those remedies which would cater to the wider economic and social contexts which predispose a community to poor nutrition. Major findings of the National Nutrition Survey 2011 clearly indicate the urgent need to address malnutrition through an integrated approach, which addresses immediate, underlying and basic causes of malnutrition. This is a challenge to mainstream nutrition and to ensure that all relevant departments and stakeholders are cognizant of their roles and have effective coordination.

The fact to respond to malnutrition issues through a multi sectoral approach was realized a few years back and the government of Sindh notified the Provincial Nutrition Steering Committee and Inter Sectoral Technical Working Group in December 2012. The Technical Working Group had a number of meetings with the support of the Development Partners for Nutrition Group and Sindh became the first province to adopt the Sindh Inter Sectoral Nutrition Strategy in late 2013. 

The Sindh Inter Sectoral Nutrition Strategy is ambitious and seeks to reduce chronic malnutrition in children aged 0-24 months by 10 percentage points from an estimated 49.8% to 39.8% by the end of 2016. Iron deficiency anaemia in children from 73% to 62% and maternal anaemia from 59% to 49% through sustainable, effective and inter-sectoral interventions by the end of 2016. The target group for the nutrition in interventions includes pregnant and lactating mothers with 1000 days plus approach with nutrition supplies and provision of food vouchers and meal to women living in difficult situations.

The strategy further focuses on introduction of incentives such as conditional cash transfers and food vouchers to encourage enrolment and daily attendance of children of Benazir Income Support Programme beneficiaries in schools, mid-day meal through school feeding programme and introduction of policy and strategy for introducing mid-day meal for all students in high risk areas. Now a simple question could be that is there any difficult situation or high risk areas in Sindh than Tharparkar? What has been done in Tharparkar so far when it comes to the implementation of the Sindh Inter Sectoral Nutrition Strategy?

The Sindh Inter Nutrition Strategy further calls for increased access to safe water and sanitation through rehabilitation, improvement, extension and augmentation of the schemes. Ensure provision of drinking water and sanitation facilities in schools operating in prioritized districts in rural areas. Create an enabling environment for improving food security. Increasing the ratio of female agriculture extension officers and field assistants and building training centre for them at district level.

Has any steps been taken to implement these strategies? What has been done for female empowerment and income generation opportunities for women in Tharparkar? What’s the status of the implementation of the Sindh Right to Free and Compulsory Education 2013, the Sindh Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Act 2013 and the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2014? The implementation of the Sindh Inter Sectoral Nutrition Strategy and all these laws are also closely linked with improving the situation of child deaths in Tharparkar.

The government of Sindh should take concrete measures for the implementation of the related strategies and legislation and make budgetary allocation for the implementation of the Sindh Inter Sectoral Nutrition Strategy. Tharparkar could be made a case study for a pilot multi sectoral intervention to respond to this situation. Steps should be taken to promote women employment and income, social safety nets such is BISP should focus on Tharparkar, increase the number and enhance the skills of health care providers Lady Health Workers to promote exclusive breastfeeding for six months. The private sector should be encouraged as well to play their due role. They can support other sectors in development and implementation of standardized messages through capacity building of their outreach workers in the areas of nutrition promotion. The government of Sindh should also promote tourism in the beautiful and scenic Tharparkar to increase income generation opportunities.  

The writer is a child rights activist and development practitioner with a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics (LSE) and tweets at @amahmood72

The article was published in Express Tribune on March 02, 2015

The neglected probation system

There are approximately 90,000 people incarcerated in the prisons of Pakistan including men, women, juveniles, minors with their mothers etc. Almost each province is faced with overcrowded prisons. In Punjab, for example, with a capacity to house 21,527 inmates there were 51,133 inmates in prisons, including 745 juveniles, by the end of September 2015. A staggering 34,860 or 70% of these inmates were under trial. The staff strength of the Prisons Department is around 17,795 with a total sanctioned budget of PKR of 7.5 Billion (7,524 Million) for financial year 2014-15.

On the other side, there were 23,395 probationers in Punjab including 22,974 male, 300 female and 105 juvenile probationers as well as 575 male and 01 female parolees. The staff strength of Probation and Reclamation Department, Government of Punjab includes 95 Officers including a Director (Basic Pay Scale BPS 19), 5 Deputy Directors (BPS 18), 14 Assistant Directors (BPS 17), 55 Probation Officers Male and 02 Probation Officers Female (BPS 16) and 15 Parole Officers Male and 05 Parole Officers Female all in BPS 16. The sanctioned budget for the Department was PKR 116.078 Million for financial year 2015-16. This shows that with only 1.54% budget as compared to the Prisons Department; the Probation Department is taking care of 45.75% of prisons’ population.

Similarly, in KP, with a capacity to house 8,285 inmates there were approximately 10,000 prison inmates with almost 70% under trial including 274 women and 395 juveniles. The staff strength of the Prisons Department in KP is 4,049 with an annual budget of 1,268 Million for 2014. The total Non Salary Expenditure during the year under was 599.62 Million. This translates to per prisoner per day Non Salary Expenditure of PKR 197.83 Million. It includes per prisoner per day food cost of PKR 124.43. While there are approximately 2,000 probationers and 25 parolees with the KP Probation and Reclamation Department with an annual budget of only PKR 31.67 Million for 2013-14.

Balochistan and Sindh are no different either, in Sindh the prisons population in December 2015 was  19,372 with 3,276 convicted including 40 female and 10 juveniles, death sentence 465 including 2 females and under trials were 15,351 including 150 females and 211 juveniles. With 25 male and 01 female Probation Officers Sindh has 645 probationers with 0 females, 45 male juveniles and 01 female juvenile on probation.

The purpose of this piece and the above data is to highlight how important but ignored the probation system in Pakistan is where the criminal justice system is dead focused on punishment and how investments in and strengthening of the probation system in Pakistan can help reduce the prisons population. Prisons are considered nurseries for producing criminals and where huge investments are made every year for improving prisons infra structure and still most of the inmates particularly women and children live in miserable conditions.

Probation is a court imposed SANCTION that "releases a convicted offender into the community under a conditional suspended sentence". This practice assumes that most offenders are not dangerous and will respond well to treatment. In fact, the average PROBATIONER is a first time and or non-violent offender who, it is believed, will be best served by remaining in the community while serving out the sentence (Encyclopedia). Under the probation system an offender is placed under the supervision and care of a Probation Officer in lieu of imprisonment as long as the probationer meets certain standards of conduct.

Why are alternatives to detention important and particularly for children? According to UNICEF alternatives to detention are measures that may be imposed on children who are being formally processed through the criminal justice system, at both pre-trial and sentencing stages that do not involve deprivation of liberty. Alternatives to detention involves communities and are inexpensive whereas detention is expensive and leads to overcrowding and turns juveniles and or inmates hostile and vulnerable to be abused and exploited. 

According to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), one of the easiest ways to resolve the problem of overcrowded prisons in Pakistan is by invoking the system of probation and parole provided under the law. Probation is particularly useful in cases of offenders who are not yet committed to a life of crime. The relevant laws have existed for decades in Pakistan, where over seventy percent of the prison population consists of offenders whose sentence terms range from one month to one year. Generally, most have landed behind bars as a result of petty disputes, such as fights over land or water, or due to some family feuds. Most are devoid of any criminal characteristics: their interaction in jail with confirmed criminals and professionals only harms them rather than doing them any good.

After the introduction of the National Judicial Policy (NJP) 2009 being introduced by the National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) headed by the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, a significant progress was noticed in the use of probation as an alternative measures to detention in the country. There were 10,362 probationers in Pakistan in 2005 while today there are approximately 26,000 probationers in Pakistan mostly in Punjab and KP. This was possible as the NJPMC advised the Courts and Government to maximally use the Probation of Offenders Ordinance 1960 and the Good Conduct Prisoners Probation Release Act 1926 by releasing the deserving convicts on probation and parole as prescribed in the law. The Committee also recommended that alleged child offenders’ cases will also be given higher preference.  I am not sure however, if there is that level of focus anymore on the National Judicial Policy 2009’s implementation with reference to the utilization of probation system and will strongly recommend a continued focus with a provincial lens on, on the utilization of probation system and continuous follow up with the government and the district level Criminal Justice Coordination Committees for progress in each district of Pakistan particularly in KP, the Islamabad Capital Territory and Punjab where the Police Order 2002 is still in place while in Balochistan and Sindh the District and Sessions Judges can be followed up with.

The provincial governments should encourage the Probation and Reclamation Department and focus on awareness among the stakeholders about probation system given in laws and also in the NJP as an effective alternative to detention/incarceration of offenders including child and women offenders. Efforts should also be made to bridge the gap among the judiciary, police, and probation department. The provincial and federal judicial academies should play an active role in creating widespread understanding about and willingness to utilize the probation system and last but not the least the provincial governments should make a comparative analysis of the budgetary allocation for Probation and Prisons and the outcomes and increase budgetary allocations for the Probation and Reclamation Departments. 

The writer is a human rights activist and development practitioner with a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics (LSE) and tweets at @amahmood72

This article was published in Express Tribune on February 09, 2016

The government’s ignorance on child rights

On the occasion of the Universal Children’s Day on November 20, 2015, the Ministry of Human Rights organized a mega event with the Minister Law and Justice as the Chief Guest in a luxurious hotel in Islamabad. “I confess today that I know little about today’s subject”, with these words the worthy Federal Minister for Law and Justice and Information Senator Pervaiz Rashid began his speech. He went on to say “Unfortunately, we don’t speak much about child rights”. While pointing towards the standees in the hall, the Minister said, children are abused in our society and child domestic labour is widespread and even most of the people sitting in this hall will have a child working as domestic servant at their homes.

Thank you for your confession Honourable Minister. It’s OK and acceptable till the confession, the honourable Minister however, went a step ahead while thinking about responding to the situation, and said “we should assemble around 10,000 children who have been abused, who have been left out of schools and who have been exploited as domestic workers in a stadium in the presence of media so that their stories could be shared across the country live and the whole nation comes to know about their plight and we can say sorry to them and ask them for forgiveness that we couldn’t protect their rights”.

Dear Sir, thank you for your confession about your ignorance of child rights and asking the children of Pakistan for forgiveness. I think it’s a step in the right direction and require a lot of courage to accept your shortcomings while having a leadership and responsible portfolio. Unfortunately however, your proposed actions will not help these children in anyway rather it will further expose them (it may give you some satisfaction though). You and your government need not assemble all children in stadiums and ask them for forgiveness as this also require a lot of time and resources because such children are in millions who have been abused, who are malnourished, who are not going to schools, who are working as domestic servants, who are being married as children, who are working in the most hazardous conditions in hundreds of various sectors across Pakistan, who are living in some of the most difficult situations and areas like the children of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and who belong to religious minorities.   

You and your government rather should focus on fulfilling your commitments to the children of Pakistan made in your party’s manifesto i.e. to increase overall expenditure on health to 2% of the GDP, achieve 100% vaccination of children and 50% reduction in maternal and infant mortality by 2018. You need to make sure that all national and international commitments related to child rights are prioritized for implementation.

Similarly, keeping in mind the pending tasks of your ministry, a number of Bills related to child rights are pending at the National Assembly level for years now. You should play your role to ensure enactment of the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) Bill, the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill, the Child Marriages Restraint Amendment Bill and the Criminal Laws Amendment (Child Protection) Bill, which has been passed by the National Assembly finally but still to be passed by the Senate of Pakistan. Similarly, there is no child protection system in place in the Islamabad Capital Territory and legislation should be enacted to put in place a child protection system for the ICT. The National Child Protection Centre under your ministry requires legal status and financial resources to play a central role in the Child Protection System for Islamabad. In this regard, the enactment of the ICT Child Protection and Welfare Bill also requires your urgent attention.

There are a number of child protection related laws in the country which are poorly implemented even at the Islamabad level. The Government of Pakistan should take solid steps for the implementation of existing laws i.e. the ICT Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012, the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 and the Employment of Children Act 1991. There are still a number of children roaming around, begging and working on the streets of Islamabad without going to schools despite the fact that education for children 5 16 years of age is a fundamental right under Article 25 A of the Constitution of Pakistan. The previous government have enacted the ICT Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012. The Act was also extended to FATA by the then President of Pakistan. You are requested to notify rules and make budgetary allocation for the effective implementation of the 2012 Act at the ICT level and in FATA.

Furthermore, under the JJSO 2000, notify an exclusive juvenile court for the ICT, appoint at least one male and one female probation officer; allocate resources for extending free legal aid to children in contact with the law and take similar steps for the implementation of the law in FATA where it has been extended in 2004.

You rightly mentioned in your speech about the plight of child domestic workers, please direct the Capital Administration and Development Division to notify child domestic labour under the schedule of banned occupations of the Employment of Children Act 1991 and put an immediate ban on all government officials and parliamentarians for employing children as domestic servants.

The above steps will pave way for some positive changes in the lives of children and will also put pressure on the provincial governments to follow the footprints of the federal government, prioritise child rights and take solid steps to improve the child health, education and protection situation in the country.

I thank you for reading this piece and immediately taking action.

The writer is child rights activist and development practitioner with a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics (LSE) and tweets at @amahmood72

The article was published in Express Tribune on Dec. 23, 2015

Pakistan’s child rights scrutiny

How many of us know that there was a National Plan of Action for Children adopted in 2006 and whether it was implemented; that there is no independent National Commission on the Rights of the Child Rights; that birth registration rate is merely 30 per cent; that 352,000 children die before their fifth birthday; that 45 per cent children are malnourished; that there is a need to protect children belonging to religious minorities from sectarian violence and attacks, forced marriages and forced conversions and from prosecution and conviction under blasphemy law; that the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill is still pending; that the minimum legal age for criminal responsibility is still 7 years; that the minimum age of marriage for girls is still 16 except in Sindh; that no specific programmes have been initiated for children with disabilities to enjoy their rights and to prevent their marginalisation and abandonment and to build an inclusive education system.

These are sad realities and we all know that budgetary allocation for children is still a mere 6 per cent of the GDP; that Pakistan has the highest bottle feeding and lowest exclusive breastfeeding for six months rates in South Asia; that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, that Article 25-A of the Constitution about the right to free and compulsory education for children between the ages of 5 and 16 years and the Employment of Children Act 1991 are poorly implemented; that child domestic labour is still legal and no child labour survey has been conducted since 1996; that no specific measures have been taken to combat sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; that child sexual abuse is still denied despite huge scandals like the Kasur and that the children of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are still deprived of most of their rights enshrined in the UNCRC and the Constitution.

The above issues are just a few of those mentioned in the list of issues that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child came up with during the pre-session, held between October 5-9, and requested the Government of Pakistan for written replies before March 01, 2016. This is part of the States scrutiny being party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). State Parties are required to submit their Periodic Reports about implementation on the Convention after every 5 years. The Government of Pakistan submitted its 5th Periodic Report to the UN Committee on May 23rd, 2015; the same was due on December 11, 2012. Civil society was invited to submit Alternative Reports by June 30, 2015. CSOs and coalitions, including the Child Rights Movement (CRM) Pakistan, Justice Project Pakistan and Global Coalition to Protect Education form Attack Pakistan submitted their Alternative Reports.

A plenary session will be held where the Government of Pakistan will be scrutinized for the state of child rights in Pakistan by the Committee in its Seventy Second Session to be held during May 17-June 03, 2016. Following the plenary with the government, the Committee will adopt Concluding Observations and Recommendations for the Government of Pakistan and all other stakeholders.

Having a look at the State report, all the alternative reports submitted by the civil society and the list of issues and questions raised by the Committee, one realize that Pakistan is still far from achieving any significant milestones in making rights enshrined in the UNCRC a reality for the children of Pakistan. This is high time that the federal and provincial governments prioritize child rights and immediately respond to the issues raised by the Committee in its list of issues on which the government of Pakistan is required to respond before March 01, 2016.

The federal government should immediately enact all the pending bills related to children including the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill, the Child Protection (Criminal Laws) Amendment Bill, the ICT Child Protection and Welfare Bill, the Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill and the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill. Similarly, the federal government should also take practical steps for the implementation of the right to education legislation at the Islamabad and FATA level by notifying rules and making budgetary allocation for the ICT Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012. There is also a need to make budgetary allocation of establishing child protection system at the ICT and FATA levels by the federal government and at the provincial level by all the respective provincial governments. Steps should be taken for the effective implementation of the Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991, notify child domestic labour under ECA’s schedule of banned occupations and conduct a fresh National Child Labour Survey.

At the provincial level, Sindh is ahead of other provinces and have introduced most of laws and policies however; there is a high need to ensure implementation of the Sindh Multi Sectoral Nutrition Strategy, the Sindh Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Act 2013, the Sindh Right to Free and Compulsory Education 2013, the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011 and the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2014. Notification of rules of business and budgetary allocation with a robust monitoring system should be put in place immediately to ensure realization of the rights of children in the province in accordance with the UNCRC. Steps for universal birth registration, protection of children from religious minorities and protection of children living and or working on the streets and those in child and bonded labour should be taken.

The Government of Punjab should take steps for the implementation of all children related laws and policies with sufficient budgetary allocation. The Punjab Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill should be enacted and an independent Commission should be established for the promotion and protection of child rights in accordance with the UNCRC. Punjab should also enact comprehensive child protection legislation as the current Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2007’s scope is limited to destitute and neglected children only.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa should immediately enact the KP Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill and the KP Child Marriages Restraint Bill. The Government of KP should make sufficient budgetary allocation for the implementation of the KP Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 to establish a child protection system in the province. It should also implement the KP Borstal Institutions Act 2012 and established Borstal Institutions for juvenile inmates at Bannu, Peshawar and Haripur. The Government of Balochistan should immediately enact the long awaited Balochistan Child Protection and Welfare Bill and the Balochistan Child Marriages Restraint Bill. Together with all other provinces, it should also make budgetary allocations for the implementation of health and education related laws and policies. Similarly, practical steps are required from all the federal and provincial governments for the implementation of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000.

I hope that by June 2016, when the concluding observations and recommendations will be adopted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on Pakistan’s fifth Periodic Report, the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill would have been enacted and the Commission would have been established to follow up with the federal and provincial governments and ensure effective implementation of the concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee and play a lead role in improving the state of child rights in Pakistan.

The writer is a human rights activist and development practitioner with a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics (LSE) and tweets at @amahmood72

The article was published in Express Tribune on November 20, 2015

How to fight breast cancer

I didn’t think much about breast cancer until last year when a close relative (43/44 years old) who was living a remarkably happy and healthy life was suddenly asked by her family doctor for further investigations to confirm whether she had breast cancer. The news sent out a shock wave across the family and everyone was so disturbed that what happened suddenly. A happy family with a routine life was suddenly faced with an uphill task of visiting Lahore almost every week initially for the investigations and then when it was confirmed, for the treatment. A heart attack to the husband during these disturbing days was linked to the diagnosis of the wife with breast cancer by everyone in the family.

It was almost a yearlong painful and exhaustive exercise not only for the patient but also for the entire family. “The cancer patient isn’t the only one with cancer. The family has cancer, too,” Everything was disturbed back home from the financial aspects of the family to the burden to take care of the patient, travel to Lahore from Mardan regularly, stay at hotels, respond to the questions from family and friends largely unaware about breast cancer and how to deal with it. This case was an ordeal for the patient as well as her entire family and drained them of huge financial resources and savings and pushed them from a stable financial position into debts.

I read that “All women age 40 and older are at risk for breast cancer, though most breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. Some risk factors for breast cancer are avoidable. Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy; not breast-feeding after having a child, having two to five alcoholic drinks a day, being overweight, and not exercising all increase the risk for breast cancer”. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A mass that is painless, hard, and has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded and can even be painful. Other possible signs of breast cancer include: Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt); Skin irritation or dimpling; Breast or nipple pain; Nipple retraction (turning inward); Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin; A nipple discharge other than breast milk. Although any of these symptoms can be caused by things other than breast cancer, if one has them, they should be reported to doctor so that she can find the cause.

While having a look at the awareness raising initiatives by the ‘Pink Ribbon’ NGO I was pleasantly surprised that someone has already started working on creating awareness about this killer disease. The month of October has been dedicated to create awareness about breast cancer and a number of events take place during the month in Pakistan as well. There is however, a need to focus more to be able to create widespread awareness and protect lives. As mentioned in October 6 editorial of this paper, “It (Breast Cancer) is the most frequent malignancy to occur in women and accounts for 38.5 per cent of all cancers in women with a staggering 90,000 new cases every year, and as many as 40,000 deaths. Out of local cases, 43.7 per cent are judged to be ‘advanced’ — a total that could be significantly reduced with timely intervention”.

The statistics above are a grim reminder of the fact that it is high time that breast cancer is taken seriously and organizations like Pink Ribbon are supported. This is also crucial that besides a handful of NGOs and health professionals, the civil society at large, the parliamentarians, particularly female, the print and electronic media and people from all walks of life join hands to effectively respond to the deadly disease and to be able to protect more lives. Similarly, I could not found if there is any organized programme being run either by the federal or any of the provincial governments about a disease which is affecting such a large number of the population and which have so many long lasting effects. I think it will be good if people like Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Reham Khan, Asefa Bhutto Zardari and Bushra Gohar with many more leading female social and political figures start speaking about the disease and focus on prioritizing it on the agenda of the federal and provincial governments. With my little awareness of the subject I am not sure if prevention is possible however, I am sure that a timely diagnosis can save many lives and reduce the associated complications.

To be honest, before reading for this article, I wasn’t aware at all that men can also contract breast cancer. However, due to various reasons “breast cancer is one hundred times more common in women than in men”. It is therefore very important that there is widespread awareness in the society about breast cancer. Awareness among men about the disease is a key because their timely action and support to women is of critical importance to ensure timely intervention. Men’s awareness is also important so that they can focus on the prevention aspects and focus on some risk factors that are avoidable i.e. being overweight and not exercising.

PS: Most of the information was quoted from Pink Ribbon’s website and other relevant websites that have been hyperlinked. For further information please visit:

The writer is a child rights activist and holds a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics is working for the promotion and protection of child rights. He tweets @amahmood72

The article was also published in Express Tribune on November 06, 2015




Child Protection in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

A lot has been said and written about the Kasur child sexual abuse and pornography scandal and now its gradually becoming history as we as a nation have this excellent habit of not to worry too much and for too long about issues and like to move on to look into some other important things. Even a mighty and organized case of the level of Kasur where hundreds of children and their families were involved, couldn’t shatter us to think seriously about protecting our children and preventing such abuses in future. It was dealt with like if it was something limited to Kasur and had been taken care of and we don’t need any more to worry about it and then we came to know about another similar case in Hafizabad. What if such cases are reported from other parts of Punjab or other provinces of the country i.e. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)? Let’s review what child protection system is in place in KP to protect children from abuse, exploitation and violence and what should be done by the government of KP to protect each and every child in the province.

Riaz Ahmad from this paper started highlighting the cases of missing children in Peshawar. The trend of mutilated bodies of children as young as four or five being found in various parts of Peshawar city is alarming. How to prevent this? What steps have been taken? I understand from the newspaper reports that everyone is clueless.

Similarly, organized child sexual abuse cases were also highlighted in the media and a report ‘Peshawar’s Jinnah Park: A hub of underage sex workers’ was simply devastating for me as parent and as child rights activist. The documentary ‘Pakistan’s hidden shame’ highlighted the ordeal of small boys being abused by pedophiles. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf’s Chief Imran Khan also agreed that child sexual abuse is common and we as a society have failed to protect our children while speaking in the documentary. Following the Kasur scandal, Imran Khan also criticized the Punjab Government and said that as a Pakistani, his head hangs in shame after hearing about child-abuse case in Kasur, Punjab.

There is no doubt that the children living and or working on the streets easily fall prey to all abuses and exploitation and there are a large number of such children on the streets of almost all cities of KP and the rest of the country. Child abuse, exploitation and violence are not limited to children living and working on the streets however, and children are facing all this even within the four walls of their houses. In April 2015, the Government of KP appointed Ms. Reham Khan as Ambassador for children living and or working on the streets. This was a positive development and will help put the much needed attention on child protection in KP. The solution by the KP government and PTI, however, is not new and as usual they came up with this noble idea, on the pattern of Punjab Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB), to establish what they call ‘a state of the art institution’ with a capacity to house 1000 children. Instead of putting the whole focus on establishing an institution, it will be more practical if the focus is on establishing and strengthening a Child Protection system to cater to all the protection issues of children across the province and not limited to one single issue and that too at the Provincial Capital level.

Child protection system is a comprehensive approach to the protection of children from abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence and responding effectively when it occurs by providing necessary treatment, rehabilitation and compensation to child victims; Developing appropriate policies and regulations, interventions for prevention and response, and ways to measure progress and encouraging the participation of girls and boys, their parents, caregivers and community members, and the national & international NGOs and civil society.

Child protection systems are made up of a set of components that, when properly coordinated, work together to strengthen the protective environment around each child. These components include a strong legal and policy framework for child protection which is very much present in the shape of the KP Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010. There is however, the need on part of the Government of KP and Mr. Imran Khan to ensure the implementation of this key child protection related legislation which is considered the most comprehensive child protection law as compared to other provinces. Adequate budgetary allocation is another key component which is missing and only a grant of 10 million rupees is allocated every year since 2011 when the KP Child Protection and Welfare Commission (KPCP&WC) was established.

The Government KP should allocate enough budget to be able to establish the child protection system across all 25 districts. Approximately 300 million rupees will be enough for a robust child protection system in KP which is much less than one per cent of the Provincial budget. Multi-sectoral coordination is quite weak as the quarterly meetings of the KPCP&WC never took place. Child friendly preventive and responsive services are missing again except in a few districts where Child Protection Units (CPUs) have been established with donor support. A child protection workforce is again missing except in 10 out of 25 districts where it is supported by the donor. Robust data on child protection issues could be ensured only if the KPCP&WC is active and been provided with the necessary human and financial resources. 

I hope that a candid review of the above points by the government of KP and Mr. Imran Khan will help put some focus on child protection in KP with a few practical steps including budgetary allocation to establish and strengthen child protection system across the province. Only then will KP be in a position to claim that it has taken solid steps to protect the children of KP and prevent Kasur like scandals. 

The writer is a child rights activist and development practitioner with a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics (LSE) and tweets at @amahmood72

The article was also published in Express Tribune on October 13, 2015