LAHORE: Protection from violence, abuse and exploitation must be a top priority of the government, as the state is obligated under United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to take all legislative, administrative and other policy measures to address the issue.
This was the crux of the provincial conference on “setting the way forward to ensure the protection of children from violence” arranged by Search for Justice also known as Children Advocacy Network ( CAN) Pakistan with the support of Australian High Commission in Pakistan.
Child Rights Activist Iftikhar Mubarik while sharing the objectives of the conference said that the conference was aimed to bring all the key stakeholder on one platform to develop strategic consensus to act in a collaborative and coordinated way to deal with the larger issue of violence against children through agreed multi-dimensional interventions.
Mubarik urged that Pakistan is under obligation of Child Rights Convention whose Article 19 states that “Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
He also added that there is dire need to initiate capacity-building programmes for key stakeholders including law enforcement agencies with an exclusive focus on child rights and child protection which at the moment is badly lacking.
He said that Search For Justice in collaboration with Australian High Commission in Pakistan is going to pilot a first of its kind short-term project focusing on the uplifting of capacities of relevant government departments, parliamentarians and local government representatives.
According to Mubarik, violence against children cannot be defeated through independent interventions alone as it requires coordination of a variety of actors and institutions.
Child Rights Legal Expert Syed Miqdad Mehdi highlighted that in the new development agenda, Pakistan also pledged Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and target 16.2 of the SDGs requires serious actions from the government to end abuse, exploitation, torture, trafficking and all forms of violence against children.
Mehdi stressed the need to formulate a comprehensive child protection policy followed by a plan of action covering prevention, interventions and rehabilitation of children who are victims of violence, abuse and exploitation. “We must keep children free from violence in their homes, schools and communities so they can reach their full potential,” Syed Miqdad said.
Punjab Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson FauziaViqar agreed with the proposal of civil society organisations to establish an independent provincial commission on the rights of children as a statuary body to oversee the implementation of Pakistan’s international obligations related to children as well as to act as a full time body to respond on child rights violation in general and violence against children in particular.
Fauzai Viqar was hopeful that strengthening the capacities of key stakeholders around child rights and child protection will surely contribute positively towards the issue.
Child Protection and Welfare Bureau Chairperson Saba Sadiq assured her full support to civil society in the development of child protection policy and said that the door of CPWB will be open for all and CPWB will be take the lead in formulating the child protection policy.
She also agreed for the establishment of an apex body at the provincial level to deal with the issues of children as well as the development of an action plan by engaging different stakeholders to end violence against children.
Punjab Environment Protection Minister Zakia Shahnawaz said that child protection should be the top priority of all the political parties. Zakia Shahnawaz appreciated the establishment of child safety cell in Sheikhupura and hoped for replicating of the same in other parts of the province too.
“We must invest in child protection and increase the allocation of budget to carry out continuous campaigns focusing on behaviour change of public at large toward children,” she stressed.
Australian High Commissioner in Pakistan Margret Adamson expressed her pleasure to support an initiative which will contribute to promotion and protection of children’s rights. “Child protection is one of our international development priorities,” she said.
Adamson was also pleased that all key stakeholders including the government, parliamentarians, local government representatives, media and civil society actors were on the same page regarding the issue and were determined to create a protective environment for children where all children can realise their rights with full dignity.