Tuesday, January 16, 2018

When Children Rise, Societies Thrive!

For many people childhood memories are the best part of their lives, but unfortunately this does not stand true for the millions of children across the world. Picture yourself between the ages of 7 – 8 years, struggling to survive on the street; with poor health conditions; near absence of protection; without access to education; care and compassion and now multiply that feeling with 24 million. 
Yes millions…. Pakistan inhabits 24 million school age children[1] who are denied their fundamental constitutional rights of access to education. Nearly half of school children are destined to hazardous forms of child labor, which not only deprive them from their right to adequate development and participation, but pose severe threat to their protection and survival. Children in Pakistan have to cope with a plethora of challenges; poverty, illiteracy, low learning levels in schools, poor health conditions, early forced and child marriages, dismissal conditions in juvenile prisons, trafficking, exploitation are among critical issues faced by children.
Pakistan being the fifth most populous nation in the world with 65% of total population being under 30 years made only little progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and now agreed to Sustainable Development Goals, but the country stands 146th out of 188 countries on the UNDP’s Human Development Index[1] and 185th out of 188th countries on the United Nations Development Program’s Gender Empowerment Measure. Poverty is pervasive in Pakistan: Pakistan is at the 146th position out of 187 countries. One out of every fourth household is suffering with intense poverty, while three quarters of the household makes less than $2 a day.
It is significant that according to the Global Gender Gap Index Report in 2006, the first year in which the the report was published that Pakistan ranked at 112, and since then, its position has been steadily deteriorating every year. In 2016, Pakistan remained second last out of 142 countries. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded almost 3,000 cases of violence against women and girls, including murder, sexual assaults, domestic violence and kidnappings in 2016 and 2017. Besides poverty which contributes to 48% of child labor, other issues such as corporal punishment in schools, neglect by family and society, lack of access to quality of education and lack of vocational skills has limited their options and opportunities of empowerment which results in increased child labor, and a growing number of uneducated and non-skilled children, especially adolescent girls. This is becoming serious concern as children, adolescent girls, individuals from minority groups and people with disabilities experience the additional burden of such miseries.
Ifran, 13 years old, from Shekhupura Pakistan lost his hand in a fodder chopping machine when his employer pushed him for being inattentive. During another incident a 16 year old paid the price for her brother’s ‘crimes’ after men forcefully stripped her and paraded her around the streets of Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan. The incident occurred when she was returning home after fetching water when suddenly men surrounded her, stripped her and forcefully made her walk in the local community for an hour. The girl’s screams for help fell on deaf ears as no one came to her rescue. The witnesses’ claimed that nobody came to help her because they were scared.  Without a doubt civil society as well as the state considers child labor as worst form of slavery and as a result has promulgated legislation to eliminate child labor. Yet shockingly the enactment of legislation, budgetary allocation and child right reforms are still far from reality as child labor worsens over time.
According to a recent study by a child rights focused organization in Pakistan, an estimated 1.2 million street children live in Pakistan. These children end up on the streets due to many factors including, poverty, neglect, family problems, natural disasters and displacement, violence in homes and schools, lack of adequate employment, education and social welfare systems. It is no surprise that children on the street are more vulnerable to other forms of abuse including drug-addiction, trafficking and sexual abuse than children having the care, compassion and supervision of their parents.
Homelessness, malnutrition, physical, sexual and psychological abuses are devastating results for children living on the streets. Issues such as these do not stop here, but continues to involve children in commercial sex, drug abuse,  begging, violence and terrorism.
Nine year old Razaq for instance who belonged to an internally displaced family in North Waziristan in Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) said, “It is gravely disappointing to see our schools and houses demolished in blasts by terrorists and we continue to pay the price for the conflict we never created. I and many of my friends became homeless, left our childhood behind, and lost our schools and future”.
Denial of children’s rights is a threat to human development and calls for concrete actions. Commitment can be shown by ratifying the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Child and by adopting child right related laws and policies which is the first important first step to recognizing and realizing the rights of the child but this will remain an empty promise unless it is translated into resource allocation and the enactment of legislation pertaining to child rights.
Child Rise, a nonprofit organisation focusing on the rights of children, is working with communities, government line departments and other civil society actors to influence child protection, education (formal, non-formal and vocational), healthcare, social welfare, psychosocial and legislative reforms to enable disenfranchised and vulnerable children to live healthy, educated and secure childhoods in protective environments. Child Rise is also seeking to partner with communities, adolescents and youth groups, individual philanthropists and child rights focused international organizations, who intend to give back to communities, in order to create an enabling environment for children. Child Rise stands for the rights of children because all the children around the world have one thing common, their rights. We also believe that it takes a society to raise a child and when children rise, societies thrive. For more information please visit our facebook page.

[1] According to article 25 – A of the constitution of Pakistan it is state’s responsibility to provide free compulsory education to every child of age between 5 – 16 years.

Guest Post by Prem Sagar (Prem has an MBA in Management and 14 years of professional experience in mid to senior management level in the areas of education, economic empowerment, child protection in conflict affected areas, and youth empowerment. His expertise includes strategic management and leadership, lobbying and advocacy for policy reform, institutional strengthening, program quality advisory and implementation. In his current role he is the Founder and C.E.O. of Child Rise and NGO which influences policy reforms for the rights of the child in Pakistan)

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