In the past two decades, Pakistan has made some progress in recognizing child rights. Its commitments include: the ratification of the UNCRC; the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012; the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2012; the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011; the Protection against Harassment at the Workplace Act (PHWA) 2010; the National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012; the Juvenile Justice System (Amendment) Ordinance 2012; the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act (SCPAA) 2011; the Sindh Protection of Human Rights Act 2011; the Sindh Human Rights Commission Act 2011; the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2013; the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013; the KP Child Protection and Welfare Act (CPWA), 2010; KP Borstal Institutions Act (BIA) 2012; the Punjab Employment of Children Act (Amendment) 2011; Punjab Promotion of Breastfeeding Act 2012; the Punjab Compulsory and Free Education Ordinance 2014; the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Act 2015; the Balochistan Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014, Balochistan Promotion of Breastfeeding Act 2014; and the Amendment to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) 2011 remain works in progress. On the other hand, the pending/lapsed bills are: The Criminal Law Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2009, The National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill 2013, The Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill 2012, The Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill (except for Sindh), The Charter of Child Rights Bill 2009, Balochistan Child Protection and Welfare Bill, The KP Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2011, KP Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Bill, Punjab Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill, Prohibition of Employment of Children Bills (in all four provinces), Rules for the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011 and the KP Borstal Institutions Act 2012.

On the whole, this policy and legislative environment is ineffective and inadequate and the improvement that was expected in the condition of children in Pakistan has not materialized.

The population of children in Pakistan is over 70 million. The environment in which the majority of these children grow up is fraught with numerous challenges and their access to basic rights such as health care, education, protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation, are all compromised. The current security and economic crisis in the country has worsened the situation. There is a palpable rolling back of gains made in the past and newer challenges are emerging. Children are becoming victims to militancy. Either through recruitment as suicide bombers, through indoctrination at unregulated and rogue madrassas, through displacement from conflict zones, or through a complete breakdown of the health and education system in militancy-riddled areas.

The situation of girls, the denial of their right to education and the threats to their freedom, is equally alarming.

Pakistan adopted the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan in 2010, handing over significant powers to the provinces, and recognizing free, compulsory education as a fundamental right. Except for criminal law, procedure and evidence related to child rights, the Federal Government is no longer responsible for legislation related to child rights in the provinces, including administration and financial allocation in the provinces (except in the Federal territories and those areas that are not part of a province). While hailed widely as potentially improving governance, the transition has not been a smooth one, leading to significant confusion regarding roles and responsibilities at every level, including international commitments such as the UNCRC. Technically, any child rights developments, whether stemming from domestic need or international conventions, are now the responsibility of the provinces; but there is currently no mechanism to ensure effective implementation or accountability. 

Despite our government’s forceful claims to the contrary, and some ad hoc positive initiatives, the state of children’s rights has not improved notably in the last 25 years since Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990. Since then, the country has submitted five periodic reports, the last of which was submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (hereafter referred to as ‘the Committee’) in 2014. The Concluding Observations and Remarks (CORs) of the Committee submitted to date (4 reports have been considered) consistently reflect the failure of the government to protect and promote children’s rights in any meaningful and sustainable manner. The overall absence of commitment and political will to improve child rights is demonstrated by a lack of focus on coordination, data collection, awareness raising, capacity building and attitudinal change, sustainability and a holistic approach.