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Balochistan is the only province of Pakistan where there is simply no legislation about child rights. What are the provincial assembly members doing?
There is no legislation or a ready plan to protect
children in Balochistan from violence and exploitation
There is a debate in the country about how to bring Balochistan back into the mainstream. Different opposition leaders are giving their plans for responding to Balochistan's grievances and are in touch with various Baloch leaders.
The government, on the other side, has introduced much talked about ‘Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan' package and commitments on different forums by the President and the Prime Minister about addressing Balochistan's concerns.
No one, however, has a clear agenda and vision about how will they resolve Balochistan's issues. How will the state of human rights be improved in Balochistan? How will the Baloch youth and children be ensured a safe and healthy future within the federation of Pakistan?
The provincial government should immediately take steps to establish an autonomous, impartial and powerful provincial human rights commission through an Act of the Assembly for the protection of human rights in the province. The commission should have representation from local media, bar, judiciary, etc., and should have enough human and financial resources at its disposal to be able to respond to the human rights violations in the province in an effective way. A retired High Court or Supreme Court judge from Balochistan should be acceptable to all sections of society for effectively addressing human rights related grievances such as missing persons, target killings, kidnappings, sectarian killings, etc. The civil society of Pakistan will be more than willing to support the provincial government in drafting a bill for the establishment of such an institution.
Education is the basic right of every child and this has been reiterated by the present Parliament by making education a fundamental right for children from 5 to 16 years of age under the 18th constitutional amendment. In Balochistan, a huge number of children from 5 to 16 years are not going to schools or drop out following primary as there are only 586 high schools both for girls and boys to cater to students of more than 12,000 primary and middle schools in the province. There is huge difference between the number of children and those getting education. Similarly, those enrolled in schools have a huge gender disparity.
According to the education department Balochistan, an estimated 6000 schools are needed to ensure education to all children of Balochistan in accordance with Article 25-A of the Constitution about the right to free and compulsory education for children from 5 and 16 years of age.
The federal government should respond to this call of the Balochistan education department and allocate funds for this purpose from the ‘Huqooq-e-Balochistan package' so that the people of Balochistan believe that this package is not just a political gimmick and ensures Baloch children's right to education.
This will lead to a healthy atmosphere for the children of Balochistan and will be helpful in bringing them into the mainstream. This will also create job opportunities of the educated youth and will prevent them from indulging in anti state activities. That will also remove their sense of deprivation. Likewise, the provincial assembly should take responsibility of introducing the Balochistan Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill on a priority basis to start with.
Balochistan is the only province of Pakistan where there is simply no legislation about child rights. What are the provincial assembly members doing? In the past one year, provincial assemblies in the rest of the three provinces introduced legislation related to children such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Welfare and Protection Act 2010 and the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011. Why is the provincial assembly of Balochistan unable to legislate about child rights?
The Balochistan Child Welfare and Protection Bill is in the pipeline for quite some time now. It's high time that the provincial government showed its willingness and commitment by adopting this bill to be able to put in place an effective child protection system in the province.
Violence against children in schools, in madrassahs, at homes and at workplace is common in the province which is leading to violent behaviour among children.
A Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill is in the pipeline for quite some time, again with no signs of its immediate adoption by the provincial assembly. This is another area where the provincial assembly should come forward and play its role for the protection of children of Balochistan from violence.
Child labour is quite common in the province and a large number of children are working in various hazardous sectors, including mining, deep sea fishing, and brick kilns sectors with no response from the government. Besides introducing free and compulsory education laws the government should also build the capacity of the labour department to respond to the situation and ensure effective implementation of labour laws not only about child labour but also about bonded labour and minimum wages. This will be helpful in minimizing labour's issues and checking exploitation of children working in hazardous sectors.
Despite the fact that the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) was adopted way back in 2000, which abolishes death penalty for children below 18 years of age, recently, a civil society organisation reported cases of four persons below the age of eighteen years who were awarded death sentence in violation of the JJSO. Their appeals are in process.
There is lack of awareness about children related laws among the stakeholders responsible for their implementation. This is also because of poor or no budgetary allocation for the implementation of children-related laws in the province. The government of Balochistan, besides introducing children-related laws, should allocate sufficient funds for their implementation, besides training of the stakeholders, including police, probation officers, prison officials and teachers, etc.
The writer is a development practitioner and tweets at @amahmood72