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Govt hedging on maternal mortality as human rights issue

By Nosheen Abbas

“She’s dead, she’s gone forever and so is my sibling, a younger brother or sister, someone I’ll never know now … because they are gone … my mother is gone forever.” This is the experience the children of over 500,000 Pakistani mothers undergo every year. The maternal mortality rate in Pakistan has reached a frightening high rate.

Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) is the number of maternal deaths per 1,000 live births. In Pakistan MMR are 276 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. These are just numbers to us, but what women and their families experience through the sorry deaths of thousands of women due to negligence, that all stakeholders are responsible for, cannot possibly be expressed through digits.

On 16th March, this year, 85 governments in a joint statement, delivered to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), reaffirmed commitment to addressing maternal mortality as a human rights issue and that the magnitude of the problem calls for the renewal of political will to address it. However, Pakistan was not one of the signatories to this document, because the government refuses to recognize the death of Pakistani mothers, as a result of medical negligence and lack of awareness, a basic human rights issue.

This alarming attitude of the government has moved the civil society into action. Civil society organisations held a discussion at the World Population Foundation-Pakistan Office in Islamabad on the upcoming resolution on maternal mortality in the coming UN Human Rights Council session scheduled for June 2-18, 2009 in Geneva.

The 85 governments are calling on the UNHRC to take collective and concrete action on maternal mortality during its session in June and participants from various national and international NGOs have urged the Pakistan Government to sign the upcoming resolution on maternal mortality. As the date for the UN session is nearing many are worried and concerned about the apathy of the government, including Yvonne Boggarts Head of Advocacy Department (WPF) who wrote in an email to Dr Qadeer Baig, Country Representative, WPF that Pakistan is on the list of countries needing special attention to get them onboard for this resolution at the Council on recognizing maternal mortality as a basic human right issue.

The importance of supporting this resolution would lead to the continuation of a process that would lay the ground for further work of the Council and its mechanisms on this issue, and would be the first of its kind at the UNHRC.

This means that more initiatives to prevent maternal mortality would be an obligation of countries which are signatories of this resolution.

Pakistan has been signatory to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as committed in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development). Pakistan has committed to ensure that women have access to appropriate health services and special protection before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth. In Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG5) we committed to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters between 1990 and 2015. But still Pakistan is lagging behind in the said goal.

Only this month MNA Farzana Raja (PPP) was present at WPF’s function ‘Mothers Night’ honouring the mother. Even though many officials will take the time out for tokenism, the government’s commitment as demonstrated by Ms Farzana Raja has so far seemed only skin deep, flippant and disappointing. The consequences of which will be borne as usual, by dying mothers and their suffering families.

Source: Dawn