The Express Tribune Editorial 25 May 2021

Children as cleaners


In Karachi, thousands of boys and girls, aged between 12 and 15 years, are engaged in sweeping the streets and roads of the city at a monthly salary of Rs12, 000, which is much below the current minimum wage of Rs17,000. These hapless children are not directly working under the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board though, they have been put to work by contractors to whom the government organisation has sublet the work of cleaning the city. This is doubly cruel. First, under the relevant law, it is illegal to employ children below the age of 14. Second, they are not being paid even the minimum wage.
The whole story of children’s exploitation is marked by ironies, as this is happening when the Sindh Child Protection Authority exists since 2011, and when there is the Sindh Minimum Wage Board and the provincial labour department. These bodies are meant to prevent exploitation of children and to ensure the payment of minimum wage to workers. These organisations have an army of staffers, besides many officers getting fat salaries and perks, to see to it that violation of laws don’t take place. These highly-paid officials, however, deny the grim ground realities and maintain that all is well.
Social activists have drawn the attention of the Sindh CM, provincial ministers for human rights and labour, and the chairperson of the National Commission on Status of Children in the hope that they will help rectify the situation. The National Commission on Child Rights (NCCR), functioning under the federal government, has also asked the relevant provincial departments for reports on unlawfully employing children. It has sought implementation of laws forbidding children and prosecution and punishment for the violators of the laws. Despite the best efforts of a member of the NCCR in Sindh, things have remained unmoved.
An officer of the SSWMB claims that ‘action has already been taken against contractors who hired minor staff.’ The existing reality gives a lie to the claim.



Right to citizenship


It is heartening to see the Islamabad High Court take stance for the basic right of citizenship. In a landmark judgment last week, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah declared in clear worlds that NADRA has not been vested with the power to suspend or block the computerised national Identity card (CNIC) of Pakistani citizens. “Blocking a card [CNIC] would be tantamount to suspending the citizenship of a registered citizen and exposing the latter to the horrendous consequences that follow,” the honourable judge wrote in a 29-page verdict issued in response to a slew of petitions filed against the cancellation of CNICs.
Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to a nationality, and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of nationality nor denied the right to change it. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights this implies the right of each individual to acquire, change and retain a nationality. In our modern world order, the denial of citizenship automatically makes the pursuit of health, happiness or even a normal life impossible. Depending on nation to nation, it can make it impossible for one to hold a job, access healthcare or finances, or even practise something as basic and fundamental as marriage.
Millions around the world live in this dire state of ‘statelessness’. Approximately 2.5 million of them — most of Bengali, Rohingya or Burmese, and Afghan descent — live in Pakistan. These communities that survive on the fringes of society in our country have long been denied the most basic of services — from education to employment. But as we hope to contain Covid-19 by means of mass inoculation, these stateless communities now face a new challenge. Denied the right to CNICs, they have no means to register themselves for the vaccine.
Coming back to the IHC verdict, it is indeed an important one in articulating the right to citizenship in Pakistan. Let us hope that our judges and our leaders take one step forward in recognising our ‘stateless’ fellow citizens as well.



Nisar’s oath


He came, he saw and he returned — without taking the oath. Yes, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan arrived at the Punjab Assembly amid quite a fanfare to swear in as MPA but failed to do so due to the “unavailability of the Speaker and his Deputy”. The unavailability of both constitutional-office holders was, however, as strange as Nisar’s sudden decision to take oath nearly three years after his election. What is, however, rumoured is that the seasoned politician has been chosen to lead a change at the helm of political affairs in Punjab, and the refusal to administer the oath to him came as part of efforts to thwart the intended change.
While Nisar has announced taking a legal course over being denied the oath-taking, a few legal petitions themselves await him in the courts. According to reports, two petitions have already been filed in the Lahore High Court and three in the LHC’s Rawalpindi bench on the issue of Nisar’s oath. Besides, the government is reportedly mulling over preempting Nisar’s legal move by promulgating an ordinance, de-seating those members of elected houses who haven’t taken oath of their respective offices within a stipulated time. The political tussle is thus all set to grow intense in the coming days.
Nisar had, meanwhile, avoided taking oath after being elected MPA from PP-10 (Rawal¬pindi-V) in the 2018 elections. It was the only seat that the one-time Pindi powerhouse won out of four he contested — two Punjab Assembly and two NA seats. The election was illustrative of the decline of Nisar’s political fortunes: he had been a constant feature in the lower house since 1985. His close family ties to the establishment also made him a vital go-between and adviser for the PML-N.
That all, however, fell apart in 2017 and 2018, amid the ouster of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. But despite running as an independent after his differences with the party and refusal to join the PTI after leaving the PML-N, no one expected Nisar to be voted out. Still, he did win a ‘lower’ seat, and it was disappointing for thousands of voters that he refused to do the job they voted him in for. He now says that he will be doing just that, and to top it off, he won’t take a salary or avail any perks.

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