Social norms slow progress towards curbing violence and abuse of children
In Pakistan, as in many other countries, it is a sad fact that children continue to be subjected to physical, mental, emotional and sexual violence, and to neglect. Much of this violence is hidden from sight within the private realm of the family or within the confines of schools, prisons, care homes and other institutions. This makes it harder to prevent, discover, and address.
Cultural norms are part of the problem. In too many countries children are still considered to be the property of their parents, and corporal punishment is regarded as being in the child’s ‘best interest’, even though all evidence suggests otherwise.
Violence against children directly contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a legally binding international agreement setting out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of every child. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also urges States to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against, and torture of, children”.
Pakistan was the sixth country to sign and ratify the Convention in 1990. Article 19 describes the role of State parties in protecting children from all forms of violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect, including by taking legislative, administrative, social, and educational measures, and by investigating cases of violence and holding those responsible to account.
In recent years, Pakistan has made progress towards addressing violence against children. Federal and Provincial Assemblies have enacted significant legislation. The federal government has put together a National Commission on the Rights of Children, an overarching statuary body tasked with the promotion and protection of children’s rights. It also launched a national Child Labour survey – the first one in 25 years.
We now need to develop clearly defined child protection policies, coupled with detailed action plans, at the federal and provincial levels. To help the legislation translate into progress on the ground, we need to ensure the allocation of adequate human and financial resources, and the development of effective protection systems on the ground.
Parliamentarians have a vital role to play in highlighting child protection issues. Setting up results-oriented working groups that agencies like UNICEF and national Civil Society Organizations can support will help improve legislation further, increase oversight and ensure that the legal framework is properly implemented.
High-level forums are needed at the district, provincial and national levels to reinforce coordination among government departments and authorities. Effective administrative arrangements must be in place so that child victims of violence can be promptly referred to medical, legal, and social care professionals.
Medical professionals, police, prosecutors, teachers, and social workers all need to be trained in how to interact with children. All must be given an opportunity to develop the competencies, knowledge, and motivation they need to provide effective protection for every vulnerable girl and boy.
Curbing violence against children will require challenging social and cultural norms, and positive change in attitudes towards children, for example in cases of child labour and child marriage. Mass media, community leaders and influencers must be engaged in this effort.
Finally, to ensure the full participation of children and adolescents, we need to include strong messages on children’s right to protection in the curriculum of our schools. This will be a powerful tool not only to raise their awareness, but also to empower children themselves in the ongoing movement to protect every girl and boy, as is their right.
By Iftikhar Mubarik, Executive Director of Search for Justice Pakistan.