Safe Playing Spaces for Children in Pakistan – An Unmet Right
By Amir Murtaza
Playtime is one of the most necessary parts of child’s growth and development. Children play in a range of ways and at different locations; however, it is undoubtedly evident that due to a lack of understanding and opportunities to play, a number of our children are being denied of their basic right; the right to play.
It is definitely understandable that restricting a child from playing is similar to punishing him or her. Murad is only eight and he has been living in his one room house, located in a squatter settlement, since his birth. Murad has three brothers and two sisters. “My house and school both are very small and therefore we can only play on the dilapidated streets of the neighborhood. The area people, especially our elders, don’t allow us to play even on the streets. We don’t understand where we should go to play as there is no playground available in our locality,” Murad innocently informed.
The candid utterance of Murad clearly shows that adults are failed to understand the significance of play as an important part in the development of child’s physical and mental health. I met with a shopkeeper in the same vicinity and asked him that why they are not allowing children to play on the streets? The middle-aged man who also had done matriculation remarked that, “I think they should either concentrate on their studies or learn some skills as playing cricket, football or other games is a sheer wastage of time.” Some other community members had also shared the similar views about children’s engagement in play.
Faizan Memon, a recent psychology graduate, remarked that people in general don’t understand that play enhances the confidence level, decision making ability, leadership qualities and social skills of the child. He added that, “Children should not be engaged in studies or homework all the time. And, they should have sufficient leisure time to play and enjoy their childhood.”
It is pretty much obvious that a child has an unambiguous right to play and therefore adults should support them in fulfilling their right.
Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child in 1990 and Article 31 of the CRC states that:
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.
Muhammad Ayub, a young primary teacher in a community school, informed that, “I have been teaching in this school for last two and half years. Our small school is supported by a trust and they are trying to fulfill the education needs of local children. However, we don’t have enough space to provide playing opportunities to our school children. We don’t allow our children to go outside to play during the school interval because sanitation situation in this poor neighborhood is quite pathetic therefore children are vulnerable to diseases.”
Bashir is in class III and he also lives in a slum in Karachi. Bashir used to play cricket outside his house; however, some months back his close friend, Nehal, was bitten by a stray dog and since then he has been forced to stay at home. Shama Begum, Bashir’s mother, explained that the safety and security of her son is the most important thing and therefore she doesn’t allow her son to go outside and enjoy cricket.
It is pretty obvious that a majority of children like to play outside their homes; however, dearth of playgrounds is a major problem. Due to absence of playgrounds children use streets and roads as their playgrounds. The increasing numbers of buses, wagons, cars and motorbikes have already made the streets and roads a hazardous place for children.
The Research and Database Center of Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO), a Karachi based research-focused organization, informed that studies carried out in developing and poor countries clearly indicate that male children of poor neighborhoods are more likely to be the victim of traffic accidents because of their tendency to play on the streets and roads.
Naheed Jaffri, a trained Montessori teacher, informed that various researchers have discovered the benefits of play, especially in enhancing child’s ability to interact and socialize with other people. She further maintained that importance of play is very well defined and accepted throughout the world. Due to the utmost importance of the issue, there is a need that adults, men or women, should promote and encourage the children to play and also support them, if they need any help during their play.
Hussain Yasir, a financial consultant, remarked that government should respect the right to play of every child, either living in posh localities or residing in poor areas. He added that, “Policy makers, at national, provincial and even at local council level, should allocate appropriate resources essentially for children’s play. Additionally, the government should direct corporate sector to allot some amount to promote playing opportunities for children, in disadvantaged communities.”
A child has a right to play and this right is clearly outlined in UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It is however, unfortunate that the primary importance of right to play is often overlooked by the adults as they consider the play as a luxury rather than a necessity, essential for the growth and development of children.
The respect of child rights and promoting children’s playing opportunities should be on the top of social development agenda. I am truly convinced that the provision and maintenance of safe playing areas for children is the prime responsibility of our government and society at large. And parents should support and encourage the children and give them opportunities and freedom to play and enjoy the life.