PAKISTAN: Girls with deformity or disability are among the most marginalized group of children
In a horrifying case, which has recently been displayed widely in national and international newspapers and TV channels, a new born girl buried alive by her father in the city of Khanewal in province of Punjab, Pakistan. The local police have arrested the father accused of burying his daughter. It was informed that due to the physical deformity of the newborn, the father had decided to abuse the most fundamental right of every child; the right to life.
Survival for girls or women in patriarchal societies, such as ours, is always a battle, which starts while she is still inside the womb and continues throughout her life in one way or another. Men not only decide about their life but also their death. Ill treatment of girls and women is a common trait of our society besides corruption and hypocrisy.
Abdul Qadir Bullo, President of Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO), observed that the recent case has clearly shown the status of those children who came into this world with physical deformities. The SRDO President said that, “I also come from a rural area of the country and quite aware of the fact that any deformity or abnormality of the child brings out very strange reaction in rural areas.” He added that due to lack of education and awareness, people see disable children as curse and therefore such attitude has made disabled children completely unacceptable for the society.
Talk of women’s rights and gender equality is taken as farce or feminist thoughts of few to say the least. The situation worsened when a girl is either born or develop some kind of disability, which virtually heralds an end to her life. Barring few lucky ones, our society in general has an indifferent and heartless attitude towards people with disabilities, specifically a girl. They are declined the basic rights of being a human, and shunned behind the closed doors.
Article 23 of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child informs, “1. States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child's active participation in the community. 2. States Parties recognize the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for his or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child's condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child.”
Dr. Ali Murtaza, a public health expert, observed that killing or abandoning of unwanted children is not an uncommon act in our country. But, he added, last week the news about a newborn girl with physical disabilities, buried alive by her own father in Punjab, must have jolted the hearts and minds of many if not all. This barbaric act is a reminder of practices prevalent in older times and a reflection of the crumbled state of affairs we are at. Additionally, the case has clearly shown the respect of child rights, in rural areas of the country.
Dr. Ali Murtaza further informed that World Health Organization (WHO) defines disability as a physical, mental, or intellectual condition resulting either in impaired body functions, activity limitation, and/or participation restriction. The exact data about disability is not available in most countries of the world. It is estimated that overall disability prevalence is around 10% of global population. And these people are usually deprived of all right to live a dignified life.
It is important to mention that UN Convention for the Rights of Person with Disabilities was opened for signatures in 2007 and on 3rd May 2008 the Convention entered into force. There are eight guiding principles that underlie the Convention and each one of its specific articles:
Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons
Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
Equality of opportunity
Equality between men and women
Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities
It is a fact and the recent case has substantiated the assertion that children, especially girls, who live with any deformity or disability are among the most marginalized group of children. Due to their marginalized status these children are vulnerable to physical violence, neglect and discrimination. Additionally, the stigma associated with them, especially in rural social setting of developing and poor countries, has further increased the violation of their basic rights. Lack of acknowledgement of the issue of children with disabilities and support mechanism by the government, society, community and even in homes have made their life miserable.
It is really worthy to mention that Pakistan has ratified all major Human, Women and Child Rights Conventions, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and UN Convention for the Rights of Person with Disabilities. However, ratification of any UN Convention should lead to design a proper implementation mechanism with a view to translate the fine words into actions. It is, therefore, expected that the federal and provincial governments should take tangible measures to safeguard the fundamental rights of disabled children. Furthermore, NGOs and CBOs with the help of media should organize awareness raising campaigns, especially in rural areas of the country, about the importance and respect of the fundamental rights of children, both boys and girls.
The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.
About the Author:
Amir Murtaza is research fellow and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org