Community Awareness for Social Change
17 August 2018, Quetta: The consultation started with a session to build consensus on specific child rights issues that should be the focus in the province. Child sexual abuse, corporal punishment, child marriage and child domestic labor were proposed as possible areas. It was agreed that while each organization has its own mandate and field of work, as a collective forum they will synergize their energies on the proposed issues.
The first session of the consultation was conducted by Abdul Wadood, Executive Director, SEHER. He moderated a discussion on the existing situation in Balochistan in regard to each of the four issues. Some of his main observations during this session were:
1. Child sexual abuse is rampant in Balochistan. Children are exploited sexually in publicspaces across the city such as internet cafes, mini cinemas, snooker clubs, restaurants, and floors of plazas. This largely goes unchecked because influential men in the city are involved in these activities.
2. Child sexual abuse is also very commonly suffered by boys working on the fishing boats in the province. Children are employed as helpers or cooks where they are made to work long hours and exposed to sexual abuse by fishermen.
3. A large number of children, mostly from the nursery level or the first grade, drop out of school in Balochistan every year due to the practice of corporal punishment. Nurseries and religious seminaries ‘madrassahs” are operating without any monitoring. Most parents in the province believe that teachers must be strict and endorse the use of corporal punishment in schools.
4. Families use their own children for very intensive work such as rearing animals, farming, carrying water over long distances and participants opined that this should also be counted as a form of child domestic labor.
5. The concept of ‘vulvar’ is a major cause of concern in Balochistan alongside child marriage where girls are treated as commodities and are sold off in the name of marriage. Vulvaris the payment in cash or kind by the groom’s family to the bride’s family in exchange of the bride.
Gaps in Legislation
The second session covered the provincial laws on child protection in Punjab. This session was moderated by Sabahat Riaz (Dastak) and Habib Tahir (Advocate and HRCP Quetta member) and it aimed to identify and understand barriers to change in the provincial child protection specifically focusing on gaps in existing legislation and policies.
One common issue with respect to all child rights legislation in Balochistan was the lack of corresponding rules and proper implementation. Laws are passed without adequate financial and resource allocation which makes the legislation futile. The Balochistan Child Protection Act, 2016 remains unenforced in the province. The Commission, which is the main body responsible for the execution of the law under Section 7, is yet to start functioning.
Public awareness of the laws is also missing. Judges and lawyers have very limited knowledge and understanding of existing child protection laws.
Justice (R) Mehta Kailash NathKohli shared his experiences in regard to improving the legislative framework for child protection in Punjab. He stated that he drafted a provincial bill on the prohibition of child marriages in 2014 to raise the legal age of marriage of girls (among other things), however consensus could not be reached on the bill and it got rejected. Conservative segments of the society oppose changes which challenge social norms and have been the major reason behind scanty lawmaking and implementation of laws on child protections/rights.
Social and Political Impediments
1. Religious and tribal values have a strong hold in Balochistan. Participants stated that it is hard to separate religion from practices such as child marriage in the province and often hinders efforts of awareness raising and campaigns against child marriages. There is a serious need to approach the subject from a different angle and highlight the negative consequences suffered by a girl if she is forced into early marriage. One of the participants shared that a reputable religious scholar has stated that Islam does not endorse child marriages and that information of such schools of thoughts need to be promoted and disseminated.
2. People in the province seldom opt to initiate legal proceedings in cases of child rights violation. Human rights lawyers are willing to offer legal help but there is a general reluctance to take legal action (due to socio-cultural reasons).
3. Lack of education is the biggest impediment to a strong child protection system in the province and cause of regressive thinking – insufficient number of schools (especially for girls), access to schools (lack of public transport), pervasive corporal punishment are some the factors behind low education levels
4. Participants shared that lack of funding in the province was the fundamental constraint for child rights organizations in the province. Donors are reluctant to fund projects in Balochistan as a result of which many of them have to work with meager resources.
5. CRM Balochistan members also stated that they are not linked with other provincial CRMS. They have some coordination with the national CRM but mostly working in isolation from provincial CRMS.
It was agreed that Dastak CRU will develop a position paper based on the discussion and the participants will design specific interventions accordingly. Dastak will facilitate those interventions by providing legal and technical expertise and help in developing resource and awareness material for dissemination. Dastak CRU will also plan more training workshops in Quetta to build skilled human resource in the area of child rights.
The consultation was attended by 23 participants including representatives from 17 civil society organizations, child rights activists, retired judge, Director Human Rights Cell, Balochistan (Government of Pakistan) and lawyers. Most civil society organizations and activists present at the consultation were members of CRM Balochistan.