Report by Ribca Ralph, Trainee Sub Editor, Impact SEPLAA.
The 2nd UNICEF consultative workshop with NGOs & CBOs on “Review of Child Rights Policies, Legislation and laws in Punjab” was held on the 22nd of July, 2013 at Royal Palm Golf & Country Club, Lahore.
Ms. Shagufta Bhatti (Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF) touched briefly upon the topic under discussion for the session bringing it up during the introductions at the start. The crux of the matter was to review child related laws and the role of different departments required to identify vital areas that have a lot of room for improvement.
Ms. Ammara Farooq Malik (Law & Policy Consultant, UNICEF) officially started off with the presentation and interactive session with the participants to learn about their view points regarding child rights issues in Punjab. She said, “This session is not going to be too formal, but, there will be vigorous consultation and exchange of ideas.”
Currently, the child rights area is facing quite a few problems. It is not completely falling under UNCRC and even the millennium goals that were supposed to be met until 2013 are badly falling short on their promises. The primary objective of the session was to build upon existing resources and resolve conflicts such as age issues prevalent in a number of existing laws. Focus was laid upon the Employment of Children Act and JJSO 2000 & 2002.
Participants were encouraged to review laws pertaining to the following areas: prenatal care of children, birth registration of children, postnatal care of children, education of children (private schools, public schools, schools for drop outs, madrasas & literacy schools), health of children, children & environment (clean drinking water & clean air), child labor, child development (skills), neglected & destitute children, juvenile offenders, children in custody cases in courts, children as victims in crime (corporal punishment, torture, abuse, trafficking, abduction, murder & child militancy), lost children and child marriages.
Ms. Amal Farooq Malik (Founder, SEPLAA Young Leaders’ Club) shed light upon the very first area: prenatal care of children. The nine and a half year old shared her experience at the organization she runs where children between the ages of eight to twelve form groups to work towards a social cause. The first lesson delivered to the children at SEPLAA YLC was about Malala Yousafzai, two weeks before she was shot. Amal explained with her own personal example that setbacks should never hold us back in our pursuit for education.
Ms. Amal stressed upon the significance of parents being educated before a child is born unto them. This is crucial to avoid genetic diseases such as thalassemia. Over 150,000 children suffer from thalassemia. “There are no programs or departments under the Punjab government dealing with this issue,” she said disappointedly.
The discussion was taken forward by Ms. Ammara Farooq Malik who said that laws regarding premarital compulsory blood screening have already been passed in KPK and Sindh, but, Punjab still lacks it. Faulty parts recognized in the birth registration area included registration fees problems and the cumbersome registration process that needs to be followed.
It was recognized that the previous government has made amendments to laws pertaining to postnatal care in 2012, but, since then there has been no implementation of breast feeding laws and vaccination laws specifically. Laws should also be made to counter national emergency situations such as dengue/measles. Accountability remains a rigid issue in this area as well.
Ms. Ammara Farooq Malik said that culturally and socially acceptable laws need to be made. It was also noticed that the health bill has been passed in NWFP, but, still not in Punjab. “A workable solution needs to be devised in order to regulate the child domestic labor issue,” said Ms. Ammara Farooq Malik bringing up the next point.
Ms. Dina Farooq Malik (Co-Founder, SEPLAA YLC) shared her views about child development (skills). The eight year old expressed her thoughts about the need for the Punjab government to take the initiative to develop child leadership skills and training. At SEPLAA YLC, children indulge in creative and interesting activities through speaking, writing, drawing, painting, teamwork and much more.
Ms. Ammara Farooq Malik, from her teaching experience, pointed out quite a few areas that lack in our education system, adversely affecting the students enrolled in schools, colleges and universities (even private). She put forward the concrete point of “changing mindsets” through review and implementation. In UK, eight, nine and ten year old children run organizations; going beyond curriculum. This needs to be practiced here in Pakistan as well; besides identifying the skills and talents of children at an early age for them to choose an appropriate career path in future.
Closing remarks were given by Ms. Shagufta Bhatti, Child Rights Specialist UNICEF for the session. She encouraged participants to share their feedback and comments.
Both UNICEF consultative sessions were productive; fulfilling the basic agenda and the necessary pre-planned objectives.