The State of Young Lives

Hazrat works at a brick-making factory in Jalalabad

The State of Young Lives

Makhtoom Ahmed

In the history of childhood discourse, United Nations Convention on the Right of Children (UNCRC), 1989, is regarded as a momentous declaration. It became the landmark of children’s rights in which international agencies, academics, policymakers and practitioners focused their attention on the pressing issues of children and improvement of their quality of life and well-being. The convention recognized children’s rights in concrete way — from survival to development, including protection from violence and discrimination, provision to education, health and leisure and participation in important aspects of social life. It also acknowledged children’s civic and political rights, freedom of expression and the right to seek information.

The convention sensitized the signatory states about the violence on and abuse against the children and urged all member states to protect them from negative behaviour such as substance abuse and delinquency, and provide them with services including health and nutrition, education and leisure and improve their economic status, thus prepare them for a positive adulthood.

Within the context of children’s rights discourse, children’s well-being became the dominant feature of inquiry for international agencies, academics and policymakers; well-being indicators were developed to measure the state of children’s lives around the world. Childhood well-being, the most researched area in the contemporary childhood studies, is inspired from sociology of childhood, psychology and cultural studies that proclaimed children as being and becoming, incorporating their present and future state of life in their research and policy. Well-being refers to the quality of life, life satisfaction, access to life chances and absence of danger. The notion of well-being is multifarious and is measured by various indicators relating to health, education, safety, economic and leisure, family and peer relations (all underpinning agency and autonomy). It also encompasses satisfaction with oneself, having a purposeful life and having distinctive individual values and attributes. These dimensions of selves are constructed within the social relations and they are determined by the quality of relations children have with their significant adults at home, school and neighbourhood, in which, children experience solidarity with adults of taking care and being cared from the family members, teachers and peers and acceptance of their self.grafic-background-violence

Each year on 20th November UNCRC celebrates its anniversary of its success as being the most endorsed convention to render children as right bearer and ensure children’s rights are protected by the party states. However, the state of children’s well-being in Pakistan is unsatisfactory, despite being a signatory to the convention. Children are denied fundamental rights to health, education and safety. According to National Nutrition Survey 2018 malnutrition is found to be alarming in which 40.2% of children in Pakistan under the age of 5 are stunted and 17.7% are wasted. Similarly, 28.9% are underweight and 9.5% are overweight. The common contributing factors include lack of access to health care facilities, poor maternal health and illiteracy among the parents. The conditions of malnutrition are even more striking in Balochistan which is lagging far behind in well-being indicators from the rest of the provinces. Balochistan is also lowest in the human development Index, lowest in health, education, and gender equality and life satisfaction indicators which is due to lack basic amenities of water, sanitation, schooling, hospitals, electricity, housing etc.

According to a joint report from the government of Pakistan and UNICEF 2019 that around 5 million children between the ages of 5 to 9 are out of school which is the second highest number in the world. This figure doubles after primary education, and another report by UNICEF 2018 illustrate that 60% of out of school children are girls reflecting gender discrimination in the country. Low budget investment has been a significant factor behind illiteracy. Improvement in education has never been a priority in any government neither the civilian nor the military. This is the reason that a recent report by Wilson Center shows that majority of school children in Pakistan cannot read, write and understand the basic concepts after many years studying at schools especially of an unseen text.Reentry

The report further demonstrates that a few children could read fluently with comprehension in the survey, but the majority were unable to read or could not comprehend the texts. The problem lies in schooling system in which the curriculum is taught in English and Urdu, not in students’ respective mother languages, absence of libraries at schools, absence of teachers in the classrooms and teaching with outdated pedagogy and curriculum based on rot learning. Similarly, majority of schools in the rural part of the country lack infrastructure, teachers or other basic necessities such as library, safe drinking water and toilets. In some part, schools for girls are far away from their homes or male and female children study in the same school. In these conditions, parents hesitate to send their female children to schools or they discontinue their schooling because of lacking transportation facilities and coeducation environment which most of traditional families do not prefer.

Hanna Barczyk for NPR

Furthermore, a large number of children are forced in marriage at early age. According to UNICEF (2018) 21% of children in Pakistan are contracted in marriage before the age of 18 years, which is more staggering in rural settings. Early marriage is pernicious to children’s physical and mental health, development and well-being. It denies children’s education, and they renounce the school and engage in domestic activities and labour. Family poverty coupled with illiteracy of parents and rotten cultural norms are the major factors behind early marriage. Similarly, around 12.5 million children are engaged in child labour in hazardous environment in agriculture, industry, selling petty things on streets and work in shops.

Besides this, children’s moral self- of being obedient, experiencing solidarity in the relations, acting morally within the social circumstances and expecting moral behaviour from the adults is essential to their life satisfaction. Children act morally within the boundary of social relations in Pakistan, but do not receive moral behaviour from the adults. The recurring heinous cases of sexual abuse and rape, kidnap and then murder validate how vulnerable children are. They are not even safe from a close kin and a teacher as they are widely reported cases of children abused and beaten harshly by their teachers.

Family provides the basics of life chances, material resources and emotional and social security. This requires effective parenting and active immersion of parents in children’s life. However, what remains for the children if family well-being is not ensured? Numerous sociological studies have identified that children belonging to broken families, family conflicts and absence of a parent at home are detrimental in a child anti-social behaviour, delinquency and ill-being. Family poverty has significant consequences on children’s education, mental and physical health and their problem behaviour. Family poverty compels children to work, leave the school and play. In Pakistan, 39% of people are living in multidimensional poverty.

Moreover, children’s opinions are excluded in important life decisions at home and school about their life worlds in Pakistani society. They are considered irrational, vulnerable and developing beings who cannot opine logically on their matters. Notwithstanding, children are active members of the society who negotiate in social relationships, participate in everyday life activities at home, school and neighbourhood. Some of them act as breadwinner of their families. They are aware about their present and future roles and understand what is appropriate and not for them. They consider it their moral responsibility to undertake domestic responsibilities, express solidarity in their relations and take care about their elders. They also have their own life world in their peer culture where they learn, internalize and disseminate cultural values, but also take collective actions and participate in group activities. Ignoring children’s voices retards their cognitive and emotional development as well as reduces their trust in relationships. Listening to them by parents and teachers can protect them from abuses. However, there is a culture of silencing children at home and school which is most common among the middle class families and public schools. Children are also excluded from child-related policies nor are they participated in administrative and judicial matters. Whatever policies exist, they are all adult-centric. Albeit, these policies are significant in furtherance of children’s development and well-being, children’s own involvement in public policy can provide a better insight about their lives.

Numerous laws exist in the country both at federal and provincial levels for improvement of children’s lives and well-being. For example, article 25A of the constitution is about state provision of free and compulsory education to children, article 25 rests on protection of women and children, breast feeding and child nutrition ordinance 2002 in Punjab province and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, child marriage restraints act 1929, and article 11 of the constitution is based on prohibition of slavery and forced labour of children. However, the problem lies in the ineffective police and judicial inequity. Improving well-being of families and children is a target for Pakistan to be achieved in the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The state of children’s well-being is a serious exigency requiring stringent state protection services including effective legal mechanisms, administering awareness campaigns, and instigating civil society and media. More importantly, developing child centred policies to protect and guarantee children’s rights and improve their well-being. Children are future adults, they become what we invest on them today.

The writer is a lecturer of Sociology at BUITEMS Quetta


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