With the surge of the child abuse tragedies in Kasur and Chunian, Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) Punjab, a sole body responsible to deal with rights of children in the province, has plunged into deep controversies. Its performance, legitimate ambit and powers are under question.

Adding insult to injury, CPWB earned a bad name when its own employee found guilty of sexually harassing 11 years old child in Lahore Bureau first week of October. After registration of FIR, accused has been sent to jail. In-fights within ruling party for replacing and grabbing top slot of CPWB, absence of Child Protection Policy and sketchy legal and working framework of CPWB are other glitches that have spelt the troubles.

CPWB was established in 2004. Till December 2017, Bureau kept working as per routine and nobody knew its limited functionalities and ineffectiveness. After emergence of Zainab rape case on January 2018 coupled with recent serial killing and rape incidents, CPWB has been exposed badly and now struggling to prove its professional utility and service delivery.

Public perception has surfaced that inefficiency of CPWB Punjab led to frequent child abuse bestiality to happen. But officials responded on technical grounds that bureau scope of work limits to prevention instead protection.

After earning infamy in the eyes of public, CPWB becomes embroiled into untoward situation facing accusations of alleged maltreatment to children registered in various districts bureaus and poor performance in Punjab Assembly. Disrepute came to light when Musarrat Jamshid Cheema, Chairperson on Standing Committee Interior submitted her report about CPWB’s alleged delinquency in Punjab Assembly.

With this impetus, on the directives of Punjab Assembly speaker Pervaiz Elahi, a fact-finding special committee has been formed in headship of Muhammad Basharat Raja, provincial minister of Punjab for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Baitul Maal and Social Welfare.

During latest meeting of fact-finding committee Special Secretary Interior Ahsan Bhatta submitted his report after visiting various bureaus about CPWB. CPWB chairman Sara Ahmed had to appear before the committee to clear her position but she did not turn up. Minister Muhammad Basharat Raja ordered her to appear before next meeting of committee at all costs.

Meeting was attended by Musarrat Jamshed Cheema, Samera Ahmed, Khadija Umer, Rabia Naseem Farooqi, Mian Shafi Muhammad, Mian Manazar Ali Ranjah. Participating in the meeting, Special Secretary Interior presented and ratified his comprehensive report in the light of public and departmental feedback on the deteriorating situation in CPB.

Standing Committee Chairperson on Interior Mrs. Musarrat Jamshed Cheema said that despite availability of financial resources, children staying in bureaus of CPWB were deprived of facilities of education, food and health. These kids had been living in worst condition, she claimed and pointed out glaring issues of overstaffing and financial irregularities. For instance in Lahore Bureau, registered kids were 200 but staff strength was 270, she mentioned.

Meanwhile provincial minister of Punjab for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Baitul Maal and Social Welfare Basharat Raja said that Special Committee N0 7 was watchful of brewing situation. “I have gone through of all reports submitted so far and tend to visit all eight bureaus of CPWB in coming days. Unless I myself physically observe and look into nitty-gritty of matter, cannot judge and furnish anything.”

CPWB is in crisis in a situation when Punjab is housing millions of street children who are most vulnerable to sexual abuse, drug addiction, and self-abuse (many cut themselves with blades and knives or burn themselves. According to report of State of Children in Pakistan 2015 prepared with the help of Office of the National Commissioner for Children in Islamabad, Provincial Ombudsman in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar, there are an estimated 1.2 million children living on the streets of Pakistan with majority of them are in Punjab. While there are no official statistics, it is estimated that there are 130,000 street children in Punjab, surviving in the major cities and urban centres, making them one of the largest and most neglected social groups in the country.

Meanwhile another report commissioned by UNICEF Islamabad Country Office titled “Child Protection System Mapping and Assessment” revealed creepy structural issues in CPWB that had been hampering its performance.  “Social Welfare Department (SWD) does not have any specific mandate with regard to children in conflict with the law. It has advocated that child protection should be within the domain of one department, preferably SWD, with a strong coordination system with the Home Department. SWD initiated a request through the Planning and Development Department to shift the CPWB, Punjab from the Home Department to the SWD. Due to this conflict and the ensuing lack of coordination, many important child rights-related issues fall through the cracks,” report revealed.

The Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB), housed in the Home Department, is the most closely involved government department in child protection issues and assisting vulnerable children. It has its own Child Protection Officers (CPOs), Open Reception Centers, and Child Protection Units (CPUs) to perform essential functions of rescue, recovery, assessment and follow-up of children in need. However these are not functional throughout the province. There is weak coordination between CPWB and other relevant Departments.

CPWB, Punjab Chairperson Sara Ahmed said that there were always room for improvement and if found any gray areas to be fixed accordingly. “Following the spirit of PTI government under the vision of PM Imran Khan, CPWB is motivated to fine tune the performance as it is matter of our kids,” she said. On a query, she rubbished reports highlighting worst condition of children residing in Bureaus. Regarding proceeding of committee in Punjab Assembly, she spilled the beans that move had been trigged by her political foes and she opined that soon truth and false would be distinguished. 

Pakistan is a signatory to the child right Commission of United Nations, the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child, 1924, UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child 1959, the commemoration of International Year of the Child (IYC) 1979 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.