The declaration of human rights was the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nations. Nations all around the world observe the day by remembering the violations of the past and vowing to protect rights of oppressed groups in the future.
For the first time, the Pakistan Human’s Rights Ministry is being headed by a political powerhouse. Before Shirin Mizari the ministry would always fade away from the media attention and would have little to no public scrutiny, which facilitated state and government negligence. In a country like Pakistan, where exists a lack of political will and incentive to cater to human rights, public limelight on the ministry is crucial for a meaningful performance by the ministry to bring substantial and sustainable legislative change.
But Ms. Mazari faces a mammoth of a task; the picture of human rights is bleak in Pakistan. With practices like honor killings, high rate of gendered violence, bonded labour and increasing cases of child abuse, it comes as no surprise that Pakistan ranks high on lists of human right violations. Not only this, it is an open secret that the state is also party to human rights violations, from abducting and torturing innocent civilians in Balochistan to systematic profiling of Pashtuns, the state has not been kind to its own people.
The official statistics have estimated that since January 2012, more than 8,650 incidents of violence against women were reported. From these cases 860 were of honour killing, 481 of domestic violence, 344 rape cases, 268 sexual assaults, 90 acid burnings while 535 cases of violence against women.
The organization ‘War Against Rape’ estimated that four women are being raped every day in Pakistan and there has been a 49 percent increase in cases of sexual violence against women as compared to 2013 and 2014. Since 2007 to 2015, more than 1,230 victims of acid violence and 1004 acid attacks were reported in the country.
Mostly the victims are women as 70 percent women have fallen in the age of 17 to 30 years.
These figures are concerning, but even worse is that fact that this is only the reported and visible figure. Sexual abuse is a taboo in Pakistan; seen as a matter of family honor. Due to ideas such as these a lot of such cases are never reported, which indicates that a large number of population is facing abuse and harm in their life without any hope of getting out of it or having access to services and facilities that could save them.
It can be argued that most forms of abuse and violence against women is rooted in control and dominance men have over the life and liberty of women. In Pakistan most women financially depend on the men in their family, allowing men direct control and intervention in what women do and where they go.
Empowering and making women financially independent allows women greater mobility and access to the help that they need to escape abuse.
In Pakistan women are most prone to violence from their own family, according to Pakistan Human Rights Commission there were 460 reported cases of honor killing in 2017. Pakistan has the highest volume of documented and estimated honor killings per capita of any country in the world; about one-fifth of the world’s honor killings are performed in Pakistan (1000 out of the 5000 total).
According to Allegra Lab, an international sociological and anthropological policy watchdog, the most common pattern for bonded labour in Pakistan is for a landlord or an employer to extend a loan to labourers, in advance of the work done, on the understanding that this advance payment or peshgi would be paid back by providing labour. Although in theory the loan is repayable over a period of time, in practice borrowers often cannot pay it back, despite their efforts, and become trapped in a vicious cycle of debt and forced labour.
Landlords or employers exercise exclusive rights over the labour power of those who are indebted to them. They restrict labourers from taking up extra work elsewhere and control or manipulate other spheres of their lives as well. For example, if a family of bonded labourers at brick kiln has to visit relatives in a different town for a wedding, they may be required to leave behind at least one adult member at the kiln as a guarantee that the family would return to resume work. In extreme cases a landlord will decide on his workers’ marriages, the education (or not) of their children, and will exert the kind of control that a master had over his slave but with the added advantage of not having to make the initial investment of purchasing an individual. The most effected group by this practice are children who are born to families already in a cycle of bonded labour, they are in all but name the property of rich land lords.
According to the International Labour Organization report, “A future without child labour”, 73 per cent of these children – approximately 180 million – are working in the worst forms of child labour – including prostitution, bonded labour, trafficking and hazardous work. Moreover, the figures also show that slavery is not dead, with some 5.7 million children trapped in forced and bonded labour. It is often very difficult for working children to seek help, not just because of their young age, but because they have no birth certificates or official documents and are subsequently “invisible.”
There were 3,445 reported cases of child abuse in Pakistan. The issue gained national spotlight after cases such like Kasur child abuse ring and the Zainab murder case. According to the Islamabad-based nongovernmental organization Sahil, averages of 11 cases of child sexual abuse are reported daily across Pakistan. Zainab was among the dozen children to be murdered in Kasur district Punjab in the past year.
Does hanging one abuser really solve the deeper problem that exists in our attitude towards sexuality and crimes of sexual nature? The government needs to address the issue head-on with changes in school curriculum to educate children about abuse and safety, to addressing the growing problem of pedophilia.
According to the official figures shared by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, the total number of reported cases of missing persons has surged to 5,349 cases as of mid 2018; the figure is expected to have risen since then.
Forced disappearance is a state used tool for repression of certain ethnic groups. Individuals are abducted by state agencies without any charges or a fair trial. Some abductees are released by agencies but large a majority don’t see the light of the day again. It is against the Pakistan law to detain individuals without a charge or restrict a detainee’s access to legal aid and court of law, but such violations and human rights abuse are carried out against the orders of the Supreme Court.
The PTI led government made human rights a part of their campaign for the last general elections. Imran khan promised to make a special cell for the protection of street children against exploitation and abuse.
On the eve of global human rights day the ministry announced that the Ministry of Human Rights (HR) has drafted nine laws related to the protection of children from abuse, the rights of minorities, protection against torture and improving legal aid and access to justice over the last three months.
Previously Ms. Mazari had shown strong vocal support for the recovery of missing persons from all areas of Pakistan. Even though it may be a small step, but this is unprecedented. Previously politicians and ministers have avoided talking about the sensitive issue of abuse of power by the security agencies.
There remains a lot to do for the PTI government on the issue of human rights, their spirits have been high but will their actions follow suit? Only time would tell.