PAKISTAN: Child poverty-a primary hindrance in fulfilling child rights
Contributor: Amir Murtaza
International and national researches, surveys and news reports have recognized that the incidence of poverty has been increased in Pakistan during the recent years. Massive corruption, primarily from top to bottom, mismanagement, unemployment, inefficiency, incompetence, terrorism, extremism, energy crises, torrential rains and subsequent flood and a number of other reasons have resulted that more than one third of country's population is living in poverty.
A recent report, of Karachi based think tank Social Policy and Development Center (SPDC), titled, "Predicting Sub-National Poverty Incidence for Pakistan," disclosed that, "The percent of Pakistan's population that lives below the poverty line has increased to 36.79 percent in 2013 against 29.76 percent in 2004-05." The report further informed that, "There is greater poverty in the rural areas of the country as compared to its urban areas. A total of 37.31 percent people in the rural areas lived below the poverty line." These shocking figures clearly display the noticeable inequalities that exist in our country but also inform that a large number of children are adversely affected due to poverty.
Due to widespread poverty many parents are not being able to provide their children good food, clean drinking water, safe and healthy living space, quality education and options for recreational activities.
Tereza Albenez, Special Advisor to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on the Convention on the Rights of the Child stated that, "The most perverse form of denial of child rights is poverty, because poverty makes it impossible to satisfy those needs that are basic rights." (Ref: http://www.un.org/rights/dpi1765e.htm)
According to available literature, "The easiest way to quantify child poverty is by setting an absolute or relative monetary threshold. If a family does not earn above that threshold, the children of that family will be considered to live below the poverty line."
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) stated, "Children living in poverty are those who experience deprivation of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential or participate as full and equal members of society."
The rise in poverty is a phenomenon that has been rife in many developing and poor countries, including Pakistan. One may not argue that major deprivation and grief in the people has appeared only due to poverty. The World Bank Organization describes poverty in this way:
"Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways. Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape. So poverty is a call to action -- for the poor and the wealthy alike -- a call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities." ((Ref:http://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/esic/overview/content/what_is_poverty.html)
Childhood Poverty Research and Policy Center (CHIP) stated that, "Over 600 million children world-wide live in absolute poverty - an estimated 1 in 4. In many countries, rates are much higher with over 60 percent of children living in households with incomes below international poverty lines. Over 10 million children under five still die every year from preventable diseases - the vast majority of them in developing countries. As one of the most powerless groups in society, children often bear the physical and emotional costs of poverty. (Ref: http://www.childhoodpoverty.org/)
Shahid is only twelve and he has been doing different jobs, for last five years to support his family. Shahid said, "We, my mother, two siblings and I, have to work hard to ensure the monthly rent and two time meal for the family. Despite all the hard work we are hardly able to manage living in a one room house and eat very basic food," and added that, "Sometime back my sister got ill but we were not in position to buy any medicine for her." Shahid doesn't want to get education as he told that his work responsibilities are quite tough; therefore, he is not in position to acquire formal education. Shahid, however, would like to see his youngest brother in school, if he manages to enhance his monthly earning. At present the boy earns around two thousand rupees for his whole month work, with no holiday.
Article 27 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child:
1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
2. The parent(s) or others responsible for the child have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child's development.
3. States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.
There is no disagreement in recognizing the importance of education as a toll for social and economic development of any individual, family, community or country. It is unfortunate that past governments' lack of vision to prioritize and invest in education has made the enrolment and literacy rate at lowest level.
According to a report on State of Pakistan's Children 2012 by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) revealed that, "Almost 25 million children and adolescents are out of school in Pakistan, out of which seven million (aged between three to five years) have yet to receive primary schooling. The poor state of education in the country is evident from Pakistan's position on the Education Development Index which says Pakistan is ranked at 113 out of 120 countries."
The astounding number of out of school children also indicates that due to poverty a number of parents preferred to send their children to work rather than school. Lack of education restricts development opportunities in future for uneducated people therefore it results in more poverty. The cycle of poverty passes from one generation to another.
Haroon in only fourteen and he has been helping his father in farm field for more than six years. The child has never had the opportunity to attend any formal or informal education system. Haroon informed that, "My father has been working in farm field since his childhood and now I have to work hard to help my father and family." Haroon's family has been living and working in the farm filed for quite long time without any proper wages. Due to utility of child labor in farm filed many poverty stricken parents forced their children to stay out of school.
Article 28 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child:
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:
(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;
(c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;
(d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children...
The link between poverty and violence against children is well established. Children living in poverty are at the greater risk of violence, especially at their work place. Even in many incidents poor children find it difficult to report the violence in police station. Not only boys but girls from poor families also face different forms of violence.
Samina is a domestic servant and she has been working for more than four years in different houses. The twelve year old child used to work with her mother but now working independently. Samina mentioned that emotional violence is widespread in majority of houses and informed, "My present and previous two Madams are really very short tempered and they have the habit to shout and use abusive words against me and my family." She added that, "Since, I have no power to stop the Madam; therefore, I always try to ignore such situations. But, I really feel sad to listen bad words, especially against my deceased father." Samina said that physical violence against poor child domestic workers is also common and once she was also beaten by the Madam, on a petty mistake.
Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:
1. States 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 th has the care of the child.
2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.e care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who
The State of Pakistan's Children 2012, by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), revealed that there were 12 million child laborers in Pakistan, as of 2012. "The statistics were taken from international sources as Pakistan had failed to undertake a child labor survey after 1996."
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), "Child labor refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful".
It is a fact that poor families need their children, even as young as six or seven years old, to work because they cannot meet their basic needs necessary for their survival. Mostly child laborers work full-time and therefore they have very little chance for future development. There is no denying that children involvement in labor is a blatant violation of their rights.
Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC):
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:
(a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;
(b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
(c) Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article.
An increase in number of poverty stricken people, in the country, has also resulted in rise in children living in poverty. Poverty can have unprecedented impact on the physical and emotional development of children; therefore, addressing the causes of child poverty should be our national responsibility. It is quite clear that if a child traps in poverty he/she may not be able get out of the vicious cycle.
Child poverty has negative effects on the lives of a number of children, both in rural and urban areas of the country. The issue of child poverty is totally different than the adult poverty. Therefore, there is a need to acknowledge the phenomenon and tackle it with different approach. There is an urgent need that provincial social welfare departments and child protection authorities should understand the multidimensional phenomenon of child poverty in totality. Surveys and studies should be conducted to quantify the exact numbers of children living in poverty; additionally, prepare plan to fulfill the rights of all children, by involving public and private service providers.
Furthermore, national and provincial legislators and lawmakers should collaborate with development professionals and child protection experts to develop focused policies to minimize the incidence of child poverty in the country. Certainly, collaborative efforts are direly required to break the child poverty cycle with a view to ensure children's rights.
(Amir Murtaza is a senior researcher, analyst and writer on social development issues, especially pertaining to women, youth and children. He can be approached at: email@example.com)