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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hears from civil society organizations from Pakistan

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

12 June 2017

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights heard this morning from civil society organizations on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Pakistan, whose report the Committee will review this week.

Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network highlighted the problem of caste-based discrimination and adequate standard of living of the Dalits and minorities in Pakistan, and noted that they faced widespread and multiple discrimination - social and religious, as well as institutional and legal.  A large number of Dalits worked as bonded labourers due to poverty, landlessness, untouchability, and illiteracy, and faced deprivation of the basic necessities such as education, health, and an adequate standard of living.  The non-governmental organization stressed the lack of progress on the strengthening of the legal framework for the elimination of discrimination on the basis of caste and religion.  The Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill had been passed in November 2016 which recognized that forcing a child under 18 years of age to change their religion and enter into a marriage was a punishable offence.  However, some religious and extremist groups had argued that the Bill was against the teachings of Islam and consequently, the Governor of Sindh had not sign the Bill.  In Sindh and Punjab every year, thousands of Dalit and minority girls became victims of forced marriage and there was no specific law which prohibited caste-based discrimination.

Pakistan Alliance for Postabortion Care, a coalition of more than 40 organizations, highlighted the situation concerning restrictive abortion law and lack of access to contraceptives in Pakistan.  It was estimated that in 2012-2013, contraceptive needs of 20 per cent of women had not been met; 46 per cent of an estimated nine million pregnancies in 2012 had been unintended, and of those, 54 per cent had resulted in abortions.  Abortion carried a huge cost, as it was severely restricted and was legal only when there was a threat to the life of the mother.  Safe and legal abortion was not easily accessible; unsafe abortion accounted for at least six per cent of maternal mortality, but this figure was likely higher.  A study had found that 2.2 million abortions had been performed in Pakistan in 2012 - more than 85 per cent of which by untrained service providers, leading to life threatening complications.  The Committee should address the issue of improved access to contraceptives and counselling, especially in rural areas, and urge Pakistan to bring its restrictive abortion law in compliance with international human rights standards.

International Baby Food Action Network stated that maternal and child health and child survival remained major challenges in Pakistan.  The country faced triple challenge of political fragility, complex security issues and natural disasters.  Concerning nutrition, only 38 per cent of children under six months were exclusively breastfed.  The negative impact of early marriages, women’s illiteracy, poor access to health facilities, as well as the lack of women’s empowerment and lack of birth spacing were the main causes of poor food choices underlying the widespread use of weaning diets of poor micronutrient content and bioavailability.  This highlighted the need for increased efforts to educate girls.  A national infant and child health policy had been officially adopted and approved in 2002, however the shortage of funds did not allow for its proper implementation.

In the ensuing discussion, Experts asked whether any political party spearheaded an effort to combat caste-based discrimination, and also inquired about the consultation between the Government and civil society on the preparation of the report and the landmark cases in the Courts on the issue of economic social and cultural rights, and especially caste-based discrimination.  They wondered whether there was a cultural barrier against breastfeeding, and if the solution would rather be to conduct awareness raising campaigns.  Had the Benazir Income Support Programme been assessed positively outside the Government’s circles, in particular with regard to women from lower level segments of society?  Experts asked about the societal perceptions about economic, social and cultural rights and whether people were more worried about subsistence or civil liberties and terrorism.

In response to the questions on caste-based discrimination, civil society representatives stated that all parties’ manifestos spoke to equality and non-discrimination; however most parties were scared to undertake action.  No consultative process had been undertaken with the civil society in preparation for the report.  Regarding the Benazir Income Support Programme, women were the centrepiece of the programme’s focus and cash was given directly to female members of the family.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will next meet at 3 p.m. today, 12 June, to start its consideration of the initial report of Pakistan (E/C.12/PAK/1).

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