Dawn Editorial 19th August 2023

Lost children

PAKISTAN is a child rights nightmare. In three weeks, Fatima is the second victim of a twisted elite, bent on dehumanising the young by stripping them of their humanity. A domestic worker in the haveli of the pir of Ranipur, Khairpur district, the 10-year-old was allegedly raped and tortured; her parents were told to collect her body. Reportedly, Pir Asad Ali Shah Jeelani is in police custody and has stated that devotees often send their children to work at the haveli. The Sindh Human Rights Commission, having detected grave lacunae in the FIR, wants the inclusion of clauses of the applicable laws, the Ranipur police have made three more arrests, and a four-member medical board has been constituted to exhume Fatima’s body for autopsy. Meanwhile, an Islamabad businesswoman has also been arrested on similar grounds, ie, torturing her 13-year-old maid.

In 2004, the ILO assessed over 264,000 children were child workers in domestic settings across the country. Pakistan ratified the ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which orders prompt, effective steps to thwart and proscribe the vilest types of child labour, and can also turn to Article 11 of the Constitution that “prohibits slavery and forced labour”. But the state of our needy children is more dismal now than ever. Clearly, an understanding of child rights is beyond necessary as its absence has led to mass exploitation and abuse. For this to penetrate a brutalised mindscape, justice has to be visible with fair trials of the accused so that culprits, regardless of social influence, are penalised, and legislation is aligned with international pledges. Also, measures such as ‘neighbourhood watch’, whereby signs of distress and child movement are monitored, will empower underprivileged communities in rural and urban areas. The fact that without the leaked video of Fatima’s abuse, her agony would be buried with her is reason enough for ‘child labour’ to become a forbidden practice.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2023

Flood alert

IT is not surprising if people living along the Sutlej river, for which a fresh flood alert has been issued by Punjab’s Provincial Disaster Management Authority, are feeling anxious about their lives, homes, crops and livestock. River levels are rising due to the surplus discharge of water by India. The PDMA alert says the looming threat of escalated water flow could trigger a high-level flood in some districts including Okara, Kasur, Pakpattan, Bahawalnagar, Vehari, Lodhran, Multan and Bahawalpur. In its warning to the district administration on Thursday, the PDMA alerted the relevant departments to stay prepared to face any eventuality and minimise potential flood-related damage. With memories of the widespread devastation caused by the 2022 floods of biblical proportions still fresh, the monsoon spell that started in the last week of June has already caused significant flooding and landslides in many parts of the country. According to the National Disaster Management Authority, heavy rains have killed around 200 people, damaged some 3,700 houses — mainly in Balochistan — and killed over 1,100 livestock across Pakistan so far this year. The data collected by the government agencies and NGOs shows around 3,300 acres of crops have been damaged in the provinces, with Punjab and Sindh suffering the most.

Pakistan is facing a climate emergency as global temperatures rise and weather patterns become more intense and uncertain, exposing a very large segment of the population to catastrophic flood damage. The latter indeed has been the case since the frequency of floods in Pakistan has increased significantly in the last decade and a half. Almost every monsoon season, the rains inundate most parts of the country, resulting in loss of life, property and infrastructure. The flooding triggered by monsoon rains last year wreaked havoc. More than a third of the country was submerged, 33m people displaced and 8m rendered homeless, without livelihood, shelter and food. But, as experts underline, flooding is not just about climate change. Repeated inundation also underscores governance failures at multiple levels. Pakistan, for example, has failed to develop climate-resilient infrastructure and policies or prepare its citizens to cope with climate disasters. Flood-inflicted destruction is not unavoidable. But the authorities’ predilection for blaming their own incompetence on climate change or attempting to deflect public attention from failures of governance and the absence of flood-resistant infrastructure will not help.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2023

Delayed polls

WITH the ECP saying on Thursday that the delimitation process will be wrapped up by mid-December, polls within the constitutional window of 90 days appear to be an impossibility.

This paper has consistently argued that the law of the land must be respected, and polls should not be delayed.

Yet the movers and shakers — both in Islamabad and Rawalpindi — have other ideas; it appears that a deliberate situation of legal and constitutional confusion was created to make timely polls difficult.

The PML-N-led dispensation bears primary responsibility for the delay. The newly notified census and fresh delimitation of constituencies thereafter are being cited as reasons behind the delayed polls. But provisional numbers for the 2023 census were ready in May.

Had the PDM government so desired, it could have discussed the issue with all parties and called a CCI meeting to notify the results several months ago, paving the way for timely polls.

Instead, consensus was reached in the Aug 5 CCI meeting over fresh census data, after the PPP, for example, was ‘magically’ convinced to approve the 2023 headcount.

The appointment of a rather large caretaker cabinet is also cause for concern. A caretaker set-up should be a bare-bones operation tasked with running day-to-day affairs — primarily law and order and keeping the economy on track — and ensuring timely and fair polls.

Therefore, a 24-member cabinet, which includes portfolios for departments such as national heritage and tourism, is unnecessary and fuels rumours that the caretakers are in for the long run.

In this regard, the interim prime minister, during his maiden cabinet meeting on Friday, made a ‘reassuring’ statement that he and his team do not have a “perpetual mandate”. The interim information minister also remarked that the caretakers do not intend to prolong their stay.

Some observers say that the Constitution is vague on delimitations — the reason behind the electoral delay — but clear on the period available to caretakers, therefore the 90-day limit is sacrosanct.

Ideally, the caretakers should go home in 90 days, and a new elected government should then emerge. Realistically though, polls are unlikely before February, as several political leaders have pointed out.

Yet any delays beyond this date will throw up a fresh constitutional crisis, as Senate elections are due in March, and the provincial assemblies, along with the National Assembly, form the electoral college of the Upper House.

Without elected assemblies, there will be no Senate polls. Ignoring constitutional imperatives — it has already been done in the case of the KP and Punjab caretaker administrations — is abhorrent, but if delays are inevitable, they must be kept to a minimum, and the ECP should clear the air by announcing a definitive date for general elections.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2023

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