PAKISTAN: Punjab government fails to adopt policy for the protection of children from sexual abuse

Following the country’s biggest child abuse scandal in Punjab last year (2015), Children Advocacy Network- CAN Pakistan, a leading Policy & Advocacy group, working for the promotion and protection of Children’s Rights as guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), has expressed disappointment over the delay in adopting policy measures to ensure the protection of children from all forms of abuse and exploitation. The Government of Punjab, one year after the Kasur child sexual exploitation scandal, is yet unable to come up with concrete policy reforms, legislative development and behavioral change programs, to reduce threats of violence against children.

This was expressed during a consultative and debriefing meeting organized by Children Advocacy Network- CAN Pakistan, and the National Commission for Human Rights, to review Child Protection measures taken by the Punjab Government for the rehabilitation of children victims of sexual exploitation and to ensure their timely access to justice.

The meeting was chaired by Mr. Muhammad Shafiq, a Commissioner of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR). Mr. Shafiq regretted over not addressing recommendation made by National Commission for Human Rights in 2015, including the establishment of a child protection system in compliance with the provisions of the CRC. Budgetary provisions will be increased for child protection and appropriate administrative actions will be taken for child protection and assistance. NCHR recommended in 2015 that Federal and Provincial governments should promote public awareness about child rights and child protection issues in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders including CSOs.

Law enforcing agencies, prosecution, judiciary, lawyers and social welfare departments should be sensitized at Federal, Provincial and district levels, psycho-social treatment and counseling for victims and their families should be developed systematically.

Human Rights expert Hina Jillani stressed for early approval of the Child Protection Policy, followed by declaring institutional mechanisms along with the allocation of adequate financial & human resources for effective implementation. She also urged for preparation of Provincial Plan of Action for Children, with special focus on prevention, interventions and rehabilitation of Children from all forms of abuse and exploitation. Community Based Child Rights/ Protection Mechanisms should be established to respond to violations of Children Rights at a grass roots level, by engaging local government representatives at various levels. She regretted that the Government of Punjab is not prioritizing Children’s Rights as key agenda, and resultantly, Children are facing severe issues like sexual abuse & exploitation, child kidnapping.

Child Rights Activist Iftikhar Mubarak shared that in context of Kasur scandal, on the directions of the Chief Minister of Punjab, a high-level committee, under the chairmanship of Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah Khan, was constituted, with Minister Population Welfare Zakia Shahnawaz, Minister Social Welfare Haroon Sultan Bukhari, Chairperson Child Protection &Welfare Bureau Punjab Saba Sadiq, Secretary Prosecution, Secretary Home Department, Secretary Health, Secretary Human Rights, Secretary Social Welfare, Inspector General Punjab Police among the committee members. The committee was mandated to examination of child rights, abuse and neglect in its entirety followed by conception of plan and action covering all dimensions of the matter i.e. Criminal (case reporting, investigation, prosecution, conviction in prison etc.), medical, rehabilitative, legal, and social etc.

The Committee, after several meetings, developed a comprehensive action plan to address the issues pertaining to Child Protection. This included the establishment of a policy formulation committee forum at the provincial level to formulate comprehensive policy on Child Protection, establishment of divisional level child protection committees under concerned commissioners, Capacity building and training of concerned stakeholders on child protection, integration of child protection and life skills based education through school curriculum. Mr. Mubarak regretted that after passing of one year, still that plan of action did not get the attention of Chief Minister of Punjab, and all the efforts invested while developing the plan of action are still un-resultantly, which is a deep concern for civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

Mr. Iffat Saeed, Chief Officer Legal Aid CAN Pakistan, and victims of sexual abuse from Kasur shared that the families pursuing their cases to get justice from courts are facing severe threats from influential persons of the area. They regretted that the Government of Punjab did not come forward to provide any kind of legal assistance as well as rehabilitation services including psychological support for victims and their families in Kasur, keeping in view the gravity and sensitivity of the issue. He also regretted that the Government is following situation oriented actions, instead of formalizing a comprehensive policy to address child protection issues with holistic and multi-dimensional approach. Mr. Saeed urged to enhance the legal purview/ scope of “The Punjab Destitute & Neglected Children Act 2004” through necessary amendments to cover various issues related to Child Protection in Punjab, which are still not covered by law.

Rashida Qureshi, Program Coordinator CAN Pakistan expressed her grave concern over not considering action plan developed by Committee on Protection of Children’s Rights, especially child friendly centers for reporting, and investigation at each police station with specialized female staff as well as establishment of special cells in the office of Provincial Police Officer and Public prosecution department, to monitor the investigation and prosecution of cases of child abuse. It was also decided in Committee that medical facilities and psychological support services for victims of child abuse will be ensured at THQ and DHQ level.

CAN Pakistan formulated a plan of action to follow up on the Kasur incident, including meetings with Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit, follow up visit to Kasur, observation of cases in courts, and meeting with Prosecutor General Punjab, with IG Police. The meeting was attended by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, AGHS Child Rights Unit, Sahil, Action Aid, SPO, NCJP, GODH, RAHNUMA-FPAP, DCHD, Plan International, Pakistan and World Vision International (WVI).

Document Type : Forwarded Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-FPR-024-2016
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Child rights, Democracy, Institutional reform, Legislation, Right to fair trial, Sexual violence,