Protecting The Girl Child From Violence
’16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence’ is an international campaign that began in 1991 to raise voice against violence against women and girls. Starting from the 25th of November, the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, to the 10th of December, International Human Rights Day, the campaign calls on individuals and groups around the world to act towards ending all forms of violence against women and girls.
The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.
The Constitution of Pakistan ensures equality between men and women with article 25 stating this principle and article 34 reaffirming the same. Similarly, international standards and obligations, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, state that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Additionally, Pakistan has been party to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for over 20 years, both of which fight for the rights of women and children in all spheres of life.
Given the above, the Pakistani girl children should enjoy the basic human rights in full. But a girl child in Pakistan suffers double jeopardy, discrimination in two respects, one as a child and the second as female, highlighting the grave status of gender discrimination in the country.
Pakistan has been ranked the second worst country in terms of gender equality according to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Index. Even with massive under-reporting of violence against women, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a total of 7036 cases of sexual violence, 2367 cases of domestic violence, 1836 cases of acid attacks and 17467 cases of ‘honour’ crimes were reported from January 2004 to March 2018. These, and many other disturbing statistics, prove that the campaign against Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Pakistan is strongly needed.
Violence against women and girls is one of the gravest and most frequent violations of human rights which exists in various forms (form of sex-selective abortion to mental coercion/abuse.). It is a threat to human security and dignity; and a threat to sustainable development.
If we look around, violence against women starts from childhood, starting with girls being given limited opportunities like limited access to free or affordable essential services in health, justice and social support. This all means that they have a lower chance at social mobility.
Child, exchange and forced marriages are the ugliest form of violence against girls. In the outcome report of Pakistan’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), several countries encouraged Pakistan to enact and enforce legislation to combat child marriage but no such provision has yet been introduced. Young girls from religious minorities are especially vulnerable to abuse and violence in the name of conversion and marriage. The Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan states that at least 1,000 girls belonging to Christian and Hindu communities are forced to marry Muslim men every year. Proper legislation to address child and forced marriage and its full implementation is the way forward in addressing violence against girl children.
Corporal punishment in homes along with child sexual abuse, trafficking and acid burning are serious threat to girls’ growth and development. Moreover, harmful traditions like vani, swara, dowry-related violence, ‘honour’ killings (Karo Kari), denial of inheritance rights are cultural practices and forms of violence that Pakistani girls face.
Pakistan has promised in the third UPR to combat all forms of discrimination and violence against children by reinforcing the relevant legal framework, raising awareness, ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice and by rehabilitating those who need it.
Child labour is another serious concern. Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the provision of free and compulsory education to all children aged 5–16 years yet there is not uniform standard for the age of working children in the various labour laws. Sadly, the informal sector comprises of young girls who are as young as 8 years old. They are often mistreated (like in Tayyba’s case) and in some circumstances, they have been subjected to abuse resulting in their death.
School-based violence prevention programs for both girls and boys can address gender norms and attitudes before they become deeply ingrained in them. The most common feature of such programs is the provision of opportunities to develop interpersonal skills and target antisocial attitudes and beliefs associated with aggression and violence.
Pakistan has a number of key rights challenges but the government should prioritize the rights of girl children. A bill for establishing the Child Rights Commission at federal level was passed in 2017 but the commission has yet to be established. There should also be the establishment of provincial commissions for child rights, and already existing structures should also be strengthened, so that adequate attention can be given to the rights of girls in each province.
The new government has stated its commitment to empowering women and girls. If we do not address violence against girls and don’t give them proper opportunities, Pakistan’s sustainable economic and social growth will remain elusive. The government should promote opportunities to empower girls and endorse zero tolerance against gender-based violence in the society.