On Thursday January 11, 2024, CPPG organized a seminar on “Child Protection Governance in Pakistan: Challenges, Gaps and Policy Choices”. Dr. Abdullah Khoso, who is an Assistant Professor at CPPG and holds a PhD in Sociology and Cultural Studies from the University of Malaya, was the speaker for the event. Dr. Khoso has also taught at the International Islamic University Islamabad and has collaborated with various organizations, such as Save the Children International and the Ministry of Human Rights in Pakistan. The session was moderated by Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Professor and Founding Director at CPPG.
Dr. Khoso initiated his presentation by sharing the fundamental principles of child rights grounded in the international agreements such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC). These principles, first and foremost, regard the best interests of the child as the primary consideration in all actions. They stress on non-discriminatory practices towards children ensuring that every child enjoys rights without any surrounding biases and prejudices. Along with this, children have the right to life, survival, and development. They must be protected from all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation. They must participate and be actively involved in decisions that affect their lives.
Dr. Khoso observed that the child protection governance structure encompasses two tiers; one at the country level and other at organizational level. At country level, it involves a comprehensive framework and coordination mechanisms aimed at ensuring the protection and well-being of children across various sectors. It typically involves collaboration between government agencies, CSOs, INGOs, and other stakeholders. It has comprehensive legislation and policies with dedicated government departments and agencies. A centralized coordination mechanism is built where child protection officers are designated and trained. Well-established reporting and referral systems are established for developing child helplines.
Dr. Khoso pointed out that the over-arching and foundational body for child protection governance was established in 2016, within the Ministry of Human Rights (MOHRs). It is a government department responsible for formulating policies and legislation related to Human Rights. It is involved in policy development, coordination with other governmental departments, and addresses human rights issues through legislative and administration measures. In addition to this, there is National Commission for Human Rights which is another statutory body set up in 2015. It is an independent institution, operating autonomously, and is tasked with the investigation of complaints of human rights violations. Under the same ladder, Pakistan has National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC), established in 2017, that reviews the policy/legislation, deals with inquiries related to child rights violations, conducts child-focused research, coordinates and collaborates with provincial commissions. It plays a pivotal role in ensuring the implementation of child rights and working for their protection, welfare and development.
At the provincial level, the child protection governance structure varies in Pakistan. The provinces have their own set of institutions and frameworks to address child protection issues. In Punjab, the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau is the primary body that operates under the Punjab Destitute & Neglected Children Act 2007. There are several child protection units, courts, schools and institutes working under the main body. In Balochistan, there is Child Protection Commission set up in 2017 under the Child Protection Act. A child protection unit, funded by UNICEF, is also set in Quetta. While, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Child protection and Welfare Commission is the key agency for formulating child protection policies and implementing programs. In Sindh, Sindh Child Protection Authority is responsible for safeguarding the rights of children and addressing key policy issues. At National level, Juvenile Justice System Act 2018 is the only national law that addresses juvenile child protection issues; at the time of arrest, during trial and detention, and for identification, and protection of victims and alleged offenders. Dr Khoso referred to a plethora of institutions mandated with child protection and welfare.
Despite the presence of such elaborative child protection governance structure, Dr. Khoso remarked that the condition of child protection in Pakistan is drastic. Almost 22.8 million children aged 5-16 are not attending schools. In 2022, according to Sahil NGO, 4253 child abuse cases were registered in Pakistan. Majority of the abusers were acquaintances from family, friends, neighbors, teachers, and shopkeepers. Urban had a higher ratio of reported cases than the rural. The rising number of child abuse cases, according to Dr. Khoso, is due to the prevalence of several loopholes and gaps in the child protection governance structure and policies.
Dr. Khoso highlighted several other challenges and gaps in the child protection governance and mechanism in Pakistan. He said that children’s protection lacks priority in state, national, and civil society agendas, including academia. He lamented that the existing institutional and legal arrangements (or child protection models) focus merely on response and recovery rather than prevention. Dr Khoso also discussed the following issues with the audience:
- existing laws inadequately address children’s rights, leaving gaps in protection against abuse, exploitation, and violence.
- authorities, commissions and departments have weak foundational laws and an absence of rules.
- lack of uniformity in laws across provinces, non-coverage of the informal sector, and ignorance towards the agriculture sector’s child labor persist.
- cultural acceptance of child labor, abuse, and exploitation remains a social norm, reflecting a lack of political will, and inadequate funds and a donor-driven child protection agenda contribute to a challenging landscape.
- bureaucratic hurdles and bureaucratic challenges, including appointments and removals, hinder effective monitoring.
- coordination issues, competition (and leg pulling within and among) institutions, and duplication of mandates further complicate the landscape.
- law enforcement agencies lack awareness, which contributes to the ineffective implementation of existing laws.
- communities remain uninformed about the harmful effects of unchecked internet use
Dr. Khoso drew attention towards a number of possible policy choices which are easily doable: For example, strengthening legal frameworks for uniformity of laws and models across provinces; establishing a single CP/CR authority in the province with an expanded mandate; and incorporating child rights and protection into political agendas. He added that the complexities in child protection underscore the need for comprehensive, uniform legal frameworks, increased awareness, and a consolidated approach across provinces. Dr. Khoso made a clarion call, that the federal government together with provincial government should undertake undoable policy choices by involving potential repeal of human rights institutions and creating a centralized organization (human rights body) addressing all aspects of human rights including children’s affairs. He cautioned that given 18th Amendment, the federal and provincial governments will need to find innovative solutions. The session was followed by a lively Q/A session. Dr. Shafqat thanked the speaker for an elaborate and insightful talk on the need for improving child protection laws and governance structures.