UniCeF uses the term ‘child protection’ to refer the prevention and respond to violence, exploitation and abuse against children including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labor and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage. UniCeF’s child protection program also target the children who are uniquely vulnerable to these abuses, like the children who live without their parents or parental care, in conflict with the law and in armed conflict. Violations of the child’s right to protection takes place in every country and are on a massive scale, under-recognized and under-reported barriers to child survival and development. Children subjected to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglection are at risk of death, poor physical and mental health, HIV/AIDS , educational problems, displacement, homelessness, vagrancy and poor parenting skills in later life.
Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for the protection of children in and out of the home. Child protection systems are a set of services usually ran by government and designed to protect children and young people who are underage and to encourage family stability. UNICEF defines a ‘child protection system’ as:
The set of laws, policies, regulations and services needed across all social sectors especially social welfare, education, health, security and justice to support prevention and response to protection-related risks. These systems are part of social protection and extend beyond it. At the level of prevention, their aim includes supporting and strengthening families to reduce social exclusion and to lower the risk of separation, violence and exploitation. Responsibilities are often spread across government agencies, with services delivered by local authorities, non-State providers, and community groups, making coordination between sectors and levels, including routine referral systems, a necessary component of effective child protection systems.
- Approximately 126 million children aged 5–17 are believed to be engaged in hazardous work, excluding child domestic labor.
- More than 1 million children worldwide are detained by law enforcement officials.
- It is estimated that more than 130 million women and girls alive today have undergone some form of female genital mutilation (cutting).
Building a protective environment for children
Building a protective environment for children, to help prevent interaction and respond to violence, abuse and exploitation, involves eight essential components:
- Strengthening government commitment and capacity to fulfill children’s right to protection;
- promoting the establishment and enforcement of adequate legislation;
- addressing harmful attitudes, customs and practices;
- encouraging open discussion of child protection issues that includes media and civil society partners;
- developing children’s life skills, knowledge and participation;
- building capacity of families and communities;
- providing essential services for prevention, recovery and reintegration, including basic health, education and protection;
- establishing and implementing ongoing and effective monitoring, reporting and oversight strategies to strengthen the Protective environment for children
Norway and most of the European countries fulfill these components.
The work of UniCeF and its partners includes:
- International advocacy, often with the use of international human rights mechanisms
- National advocacy and initiating dialogue at all levels – from government to communities, families and children themselves in order to promote attitudes and practices protective of children
- Inclusion of child protection issues in national development plans
- Law-based approaches, emphasizing the importance of knowing, understanding, accepting and enforcing legal standards in child protection
- Community-based approaches that promote and strengthen the capacity of families and communities to address child protection issues
The convention on the rights of the child (1989) outlines the fundamental rights of children, including the right to be protected from economic exploitation and harmful work, from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and from physical or mental violence as well as ensuring that children will not be separated from their family against their will. These rights are further refined by two Optional Protocols, one on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the other on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Partnerships with governments, non-governmental and faith-based organizations, other United Nations Organizations, professional associations, children and youth, and the media.
Ensuring that government decisions are increasingly influenced by better knowledge and aware- ness of child protection rights and improved data and analysis on child protection issues
Supporting effective legislative and enforcement systems – along with improved protection and response capacity – to protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence, including exploitative child labour
Improving mechanisms to protect children from the impact of armed conflict and natural disasters
Addressing national justice systems to ensure that mechanisms are in place to provide protection for children and adolescents as victims, witnesses and offenders
Reducing the number of children separated from their families and strengthening national capacities to ensure access by poor families to services and safety nets needed to protect and care for their children. Working closely with parliamentarians on the regional and country levels, including the launch of handbooks for parliamentarians about child protection and child trafficking
Providing support to legal reforms of Criminal Codes and the implementation of national plans of action for the prevention of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking like in Latin America and the Caribbean
Taking part in the development of juvenile justice systems in at least 13 of the 20 countries of the Cee/CiS region by assisting in legal reforms in line with international standards of UNICEF, piloting service models in the restorative justice approach, and training specialized police units, judges and lawyers to apply new principles and standards for children in conflict with the law.
Child protection issues intersect with every one of the Millennium development Goals (MdGs) – from poverty reduction to getting children into school, from eliminating gender inequality to reducing child mortality. Most of the MdGs simply cannot be achieved. If failures to protect children are not addressed. Child labour squanders a nation’s human capital and conflicts with eradicating extreme poverty; armed conflict disrupts efforts to achieve universal primary education; child marriage leads to the illiteracy of girls and thus prevents gender equality. Children separated from their mothers, particularly if they remain in institutional settings, are at greater risk of early death, which hinders efforts to reduce child mortality. Female genital mutilation undermines efforts to maternal health and sexual exploitation and abuse hamper efforts to combat HIV infection.
Protecting children requires close cooperation between different partners which consolidates the need for a global partnership for development. Child rights activists showed their concern regarding child protection after seven-year-old Zainab was raped and murdered in Kasur. They held a press conference at the press club and sought policy development and implementation to ensure protection of children.
People showed unease over the lack of priority given to the child protection agenda by the Punjab government even after sexual exploitation and pornography incidents involving children reported in 2015. It should be a matter of concern for our leaders to establish a particular department or authority in the province which has a broader mandate of child protection. All the stakeholders including the government, media and civil society needed to work in coordination to end violence against children.
The government must ensure adequate financial resources to carry our mass media awareness campaigns like Umber Alert on regular intervals, child safety messages must be part of children’s curriculum, community based child protection committees could also serve as watchdogs at the grassroots, comprising on influential persons and local government representatives.
Every day more than 11 children under the age of 18 fall prey to sexual abuse, according to a report by non-government organisation Sahil.
In 2016, 4,139 incidents of child abuse took place where 43 percent of the survivors were acquainted with the criminals, while 16 percent of the reported cases showed family members as the perpetrator. In the Kasur incident, the deceased girl’s CCTV footage shows that the child was not forcibly taken away. Instead, she is seen walking with the man hand in hand as if she placed implicit trust in him.
In Pakistan, parents don’t educate their children regarding the good or bad touch neither about the dangerous circumstances. Parents should not compromise on the safety of their children. Sex education or reproductive health continues to be taken as taboo subjects not just by society’s hard line faction but also by parents themselves.
Then again, our children are used to being touched by all kinds of people which may or may not be sexual but sometimes it is unwanted whereas in Europe you can’t touch a child. A life skill-based program must be taught to young people where they know how to handle external pressure and they have knowledge about their bodies.
Let little Zainab and Asma be the last children we fail as a state. Our biggest failure in protecting our children is not lack of legislation but lack of its enforcement. The juvenile justice system also requires attention.As per Article 39 of the UNCRC, the government should take all necessary measures to promote the psychological and physical recovery of child victims. Currently, rehabilitative measures are underdeveloped, if not non-existent. There is an urgent need to establish such facilities throughout the country.
Key recommendations for rehabilitation include:
- Ensure the child’s voice and that of the family are heard and their needs documented and acted upon.
- Focus on long-term, sustainable support for children such as working with parents and caregivers to provide assistance at
all times. This should occur at all times and not just during crisis care.
- Encourage all services to monitor and evaluate their services in order to build up a picture of “what works” and “for whom” in terms of recovery and reintegration.
- Introduce an objective consistent scoring system in the region to ascertain what is meant by “good practice” in the field.
- Create regional protocols and guidelines, and ensure quality standards in all services working with children and their families affected by sexual violence.
- Support the ongoing training and awareness-raising of staff from all sectors working with children affected by sexual violence including social workers, the police, lawyers, judiciary, health and educational practitioners in order to increase identification and effective responses.
Dr. Zeeshan Khan
CMH Hospital Lahore