Is Pakistan making the same mistakes with child rights as India?

Published: April 25, 2014
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Hopefully, the Education Advisory Council in Pakistan will have more teeth for the sake of the future of millions of children, unlike India’s NCPCR. PHOTO: AFP

Hopefully, the Education Advisory Council in Pakistan will have more teeth for the sake of the future of millions of children, unlike India’s NCPCR. PHOTO: AFP Hopefully, the Education Advisory Council in Pakistan will have more teeth for the sake of the future of millions of children, unlike India’s NCPCR. PHOTO: AFP

The importance of modern education for any society is so obvious that it hardly needs any explanation. And indeed, the subcontinent has come a long way since the days of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

Nonetheless, both India and Pakistan have failed to ensure a high level of literacy, let alone education for our masses even after more than six decades of independence. And this is a major reason for our economic backwardness. Moreover, lack of education is also a major factor behind the rise and growth of violent theofascist movements that pose a major threat to peace and progress in the subcontinent.

Although it is true that educated people are often at the forefront of such movements but the solution to that problem also lies, at least partly, in addressing and dispelling prejudices through the education system – something that India’s prominent nationalist leader and first Education Minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had put great emphasis on.

A major landmark in the legislative history of both countries happens to be the passage of the Right to Education (RTE) Acts in India and Pakistan in 2009 and 2012 respectively. While the one in Pakistan is clearly modelled on its Indian counterpart, it is better in some respects although it has retained some of the flaws as well. A friend of mine even did a comparison of the two.

However, in this article, I intend to focus on only a certain dimension which is the extent of power the regulatory body ought to have.

According to Indian legislation, the already existing National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has been authorised to regulate the implementation of the Act and the powers it has in this capacity are the same as the ones it has under the Commission for the Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 under which it was constituted by virtue of which it has no effective control over concerned government departments to implement its instructions swiftly.

On the other hand, Pakistani legislation provides for an Education Advisory Council that is to monitor the working of the legislation and advise the government on necessary reforms. Its responsibilities also include “ensuring that every child attends a school” and “taking all steps as may be considered necessary” for this purpose.

In my opinion, the mandate doesn’t justify it just being called an advisory council but let’s keep the nomenclature aside for the time-being. In short, its mandate is similar to that of India’s NCPCR in the context of education except that the latter also deals with a host of child rights issues other than education. While the Indian legislative framework is clear on the powers of the NCPCR, the Pakistani legislation leaves it to the concerned authorities to make rules governing the Education Advisory Council.

And apparently, those rules are yet to be notified and implemented. Those drafting the rules must keep in mind the lacunae in the Indian legislative framework on this point and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

A response to an application filed under India’s Right to Information (RTI) Act reveals that from April 1, 2011 to March 16, 2012 only about 6% of the RTE-related complaints were resolved.

I do hope that the figures have improved since then.

According to a staff member of the NCPCR with whom I interacted, an estimated 60-70% of the complaints relate to government schools failing to meet infrastructure norms laid down under the RTE Act or there being no school in a certain area. Obviously, solving these problems takes time and can range over a span of a few months. Besides, building these schools or having infrastructure norms met in existing schools is not done by the NCPCR itself but by other education related government bodies to whom the NCPCR issues directives to get the work done.

The staff member stated that the NCPCR had started requesting for inquiries to be instituted against those inefficient bureaucrats by the concerned departments. However, the NCPCR is powerless to take action against them.

In my opinion, the NCPCR can have meaningful efficacy as a body only if it has more power to execute its decisions and penalise government officers for non-compliance in the form of fines and by including their non-compliance in the reports to be considered at the time of their promotions. India’s Central Information Commission (CIC) has that power with reference to monitoring the RTI Act.

And unless the NCPCR is given such powers, it will sadly remain a toothless tiger.

Hopefully, those in charge of drafting rules concerning the Education Advisory Council in Pakistan will ensure that the body has more teeth for the sake of the future of millions of children. Also, given that Pakistan intends to come up  with an autonomous statutory body for safeguarding child rights in general and not just in the context of education, which civil society activists are earnestly pressing for, the commission so created ought to be a powerful one unlike India’s NCPCR.

Meanwhile, India should also learn from its own mistakes and strengthen the said body.

Karmanye Thadani

Karmanye Thadani

A lawyer by qualification, he is a freelance writer based in New Delhi, India. He formerly worked as a research associate in a leading Delhi-based public policy think-tank, the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), where he did research on primary education in India. While in high school, with a friend, he invented an eco-friendly, medically safe cleansing agent that was selected to be presented at the national level in the Intel Science Fair. He tweets as @KarmanyeThadan1 (twitter.com/KarmanyeThadan1)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.