After a long delay, the National Assembly has passed a comprehensive bill under which the National Commission to Protect Children’s Rights would be set up. The matter has been pending before the legislature since Feb 2015 when it was noted that Pakistan, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, needed to take steps to bring its own laws into conformity with the Convention and the sub-clauses that stem from it. The bill has already been approved by the Senate which had suggested two minor amendments in its provisions. There are already test cases to be taken up. The case of a teenage maid, found dead at her employers house in DHA Karachi is one of them. The beating to death of Sharoon Masih, 17, at his school in Vehari earlier this month is another. More accounts of child abuse come in daily. The commission will be run under a chairperson and other members who will be appointed by the federal government. The precise number of members has not been laid out in the bill but it has been suggested experts from outside government departments be included. The main purpose of the commission will be to ensure that Pakistan’s legislation conforms with the requirements laid down by the UN as pertains to the exploitation and protection of hildren. The abuse of children and torture inflicted on them is to form a particular area of focus for the new body.
It should be noted that in international reports Pakistan has repeatedly been noted as a point of origin, transit and destination for children trafficked from many countries. While the stress on bringing legislation into line with the wide-ranging CRC is a positive one and, badly required in a country where millions of children still remain out of school or without access to healthcare, the real challenge lies in seeing how these steps are to be enforced. For example, Pakistan in three of its four provinces, already has laws that make primary education mandatory for children. These laws are poorly implemented while conditions at schools raise questions as to whether children are receiving the meaningful education laid down by the UN convention. The same questions apply in many other areas in practical terms. There is nothing that makes it in the bill on how adherence is to be ensured. The first challenge for the commission will then be to take steps to make this possible.