Pakistan was recently reviewed at the UN committee on the Rights of Child based on its fifth report ever since signing the Convention on the Rights of Child in 1990. The State party was represented by delegation of 11 members with one federal minister and a high-ranking Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN.

The Committee comprising of experts on Child Rights in various fields raised questions and concerns regarding the pending status of many bills which were detrimental to the realization of children rights. The Right to Education Bill is one of the prominent pending bills in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in the territories of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir. The committee also posed a question and indicated in the concluding observations that it was deeply concerned and call to curb the privatization of education without minimum standards compliance and teacher qualification.

As a representative of Pakistani civil society having the opportunity to attend the session and informally engage with the committee members and the state delegation, I have some mixed observations about the whole experience. While we were able to persuade the committee to ask questions about the status of pending RTE legislation in some provinces and the unchecked privatization in education along with under allocated budget, the response we got from the state party on the issue was non-committal and in some instances almost critical. It was a success for Pakistan Coalition for Education and its international partners such as Global Initiatives for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GIESCR) to be able to effectively persuade the committee to ask such pertinent questions based on the shadow report submitted for the session.

The session commenced with Chairperson Mezmur assuring Pakistani State party that the review not an inquisition but rather a dialogue in an amicable setting so please do not consider the line of questions in any other regard. However the State party seemed to be in defensive mode and there were many instances of misrepresented facts and figures which the committee observed. The educational advisor in the Ministry of Federal Education and training could not adequately answer the questions regarding insufficient allocation for education and the unfettered privatization leading to the discrimination and segregation in society. Instead he blamed the war on terror and Taliban for putting Pakistan in this situation. The minister of human rights Mr Zafarullah also claimed that the Right to Education Bill was passed in all provinces which are not the case since it hasn’t been passed in KP.

Overall the Pakistani delegation had a blasé attitude towards the session of the committee with the permanent representative often seen shuttling between the session and other commitments. The minister on numerous occasions also blamed the national NGOs for not cooperating with the government and attributed them for many problems. It showed that such comments from the State delegation reflected the deep rooted mistrust for the national NGOs and the non-committal approach towards the social sector such as health and education. As one high ranking member of the delegation offhandedly remarked “…education is all good in Pakistan so don’t worry!”

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