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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers the initial report of Pakistan

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights

13 June 2017

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Pakistan on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Kamran Michael, Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan, stated that Pakistan was a democratic, moderate and progressive state, confronted today with numerous challenges and endowed with immense opportunities.  The people of Pakistan were fully cognizant of the challenges they faced, ranging from terrorism to economy.  More than ever, they were determined to overcome obstacles in the way of achieving lasting peace and prosperity.  Revival of economy and sustainable economic development were intrinsically linked with the prevailing security environment, both within and without.  Pakistan had introduced a number of legal as well as administrative measures to counter terrorism and extremism in a comprehensive manner. 

In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts asked questions about abductions, killings and intimidation of human rights defenders; about corruption, discrimination, rights of minorities and judicial independence; the representation and rights of women in the work place, labour rights including the right to collective bargaining and to form trade unions; and about the extremist ideologies and discrimination and issues faced by ethnic and religious minorities.  They were extremely concerned about women’s rights, and in particular, violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, rape, honour killings, as well as polygamy, forced and early marriage.  Experts were also concerned about the extreme levels of poverty of a very large percentage of the population, and occupational safety and health in certain sectors.  Finally, they highlighted their concerns regarding the right to education, which nearly half the children of Pakistan did not enjoy, and which was plagued by issues including poor infrastructure in schools, poor quality of education, and high dropout rates.

In her concluding remarks, Lydia Carmelita Ravenberg, Committee Rapporteur for Pakistan, said she truly appreciated the dialogue which had been interactive, constructive and informative.  Though some questions remained unanswered, the delegation had tried its best to clarify doubts.

Mr. Michael, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee Members for engaging in this frank and open dialogue and reiterated the commitment of the Government of Pakistan to continue to tirelessly strive to achieve economic, social and cultural rights for all.

In her concluding remarks, Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Chairperson, said the mandate of the Committee was to deal with the shortcomings of Pakistan regarding the rights under the Covenant and she hoped that the Government would see the concluding observations in this spirit.

The delegation of Pakistan consisted of representatives of the Ministry for Human Rights, Ministry for Law and Justice, National Assembly, Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis, and the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 23 June at 3 p.m. to close is sixty-first session.

Report

The initial report of Pakistan (E/C.12/PAK/1) can be read here.

Presentation of the Report

KAMRAN MICHAEL, Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan, presenting the report, stated that Pakistan was a democratic, moderate and progressive state, confronted today with numerous challenges and endowed with immense opportunities.  The people of Pakistan were fully cognizant of the challenges they faced, ranging from terrorism to economy.  More than ever, they were determined to overcome obstacles in the way of achieving lasting peace and prosperity.  Revival of economy and sustainable economic development were intrinsically linked with the prevailing security environment, both within and without.  Pakistan had introduced a number of legal as well as administrative measures to counter terrorism and extremism in a comprehensive manner.  The Government had presented its fifth consecutive budget in May 2017 with a total outlay of 5.1 trillion Pakistani Rupees, to realize the objectives of inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the country.  In order to ensure economic security, wide-ranging reforms had been introduced by the Government, to ensure balance of payment, curb inflationary pressure and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign loans and assistance. 

Under the guidance of the Prime Minister, the Government was firmly committed to the welfare of poor masses and had taken measures which had resulted in the decrease in the number of those living below the poverty line.  Poverty levels had been reduced while per capita income had been increased thanks to a special initiative entitled the Benazir Income Support Programme under which beneficiary families who were willing to start their own businesses were provided training and one-time cash grants.  Some of the legislative measures undertaken to realize the economic, social and cultural rights were the ratification of a number of international conventions which directly or indirectly showed a resonance with the provisions of the Covenant.  The principles of policy in Chapter 2 of the Constitution were justiciable and articles 25 to 27 of the Constitution prohibited discrimination on any ground and in all aspects of life.  The judicial interpretation of article 25 had led to the development of an extensive body of case law covering a broad spectrum of government activity.  In addition to the Constitution, various domestic laws, including Pakistan Penal Code, and the Criminal Procedure Code provided for the interpretation and application of the Covenant. 

Additionally, the provinces of Pakistan had promulgated a series of laws which aimed to safeguard economic, social and cultural rights.  Pakistan had also launched the National Action Plan on Human Rights in February 2016, after extensive consultations with all stakeholders including the civil society.  In line with this plan, the National Commission for Minorities had been strengthened, and a national task force, represented by Federal Ministries and provincial Law and Human Rights Departments had been established for its implementation, oversight and monitoring.  Additionally, a National Accountability Bureau worked to fight corruption, and the National Commission on Human Rights and the National Commission on the Status of Women had been established.  Among other initiatives were the “Every Child in School Initiative, the National Health Vision 2016-25, the Polio Eradication Programme, the National Food Security Policy, the Zero Hunger Programme, and the National Infant and Young Child Feeding Programme.

Questions from Experts

LYDIA CARMELITA RAVENBERG, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Pakistan, highlighted some of the positive steps the country had taken in regard to human rights and remarked that the Committee had not been provided sufficient information on the status of the Covenant in the domestic legal order and the justiciability of the rights under the Covenant.

The Part 2 of the Constitution on fundamental rights and principles of policy stipulated most human rights, and it was interesting that Chapter 1 on fundamental rights mainly dealt with civil and political rights, while most economic and social rights, with the exception of the right to education and the right to culture, were stipulated in Chapter 2 on principles of policy.  It seemed that Pakistan divided human rights into two categories, of which one was justiciable and the other not. 

In its replies to the list of issues, Pakistan had clarified that the provisions relating to the principles of policy in Chapter 2 of the Constitution were justiciable, while the paragraph 19 of the report clearly indicated that those rights were non-justiciable and was meant to serve as guidelines for the Government in enacting legislation.

Was there a separation among rights and were those rights under Chapter 2 justiciable or not?  Could the delegation provide information on the cases in which the Covenant was invoked or applied by the courts.

Concerning the impact of the devolution process on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, the Rapporteur asked about measures taken to strengthen the capacity of local governments, particularly to address the regional disparities in providing services.

Ms. Ravenberg welcomed the establishment of the National Commission for Human Rights and asked whether it was mandated to deal with the economic, social and cultural rights, upon complaints or on its own initiative, and whether it had the power to investigate the allegations of human rights violations by military or intelligence agencies. Was the Commission in conformity with the Paris Principles, having in mind that it fell under the Ministry of Justice? 

What measures was Pakistan taking to address the reports of abduction, killing and intimidation of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists, allegedly committed by State institutions, including the military intelligence services?  How many cases had been investigated and prosecuted, what were the convictions and penalties imposed on the perpetrators?

Could the delegation inform about the actions taken to combat corruption in the public sector, particularly among high-level officials?  What achievements had been made so far, including on investigations, on ensuring a safe environment for complaints, and on providing judicial remedies and other control mechanisms?

Regarding the anti-discrimination legislation, Ms. Ravenberg was concerned that the anti-discrimination provisions, including Articles 25 to 27 of the Constitution, were limited in their prohibition of all forms of discrimination based on any ground and in all aspects of life.  What efforts were being made to address those gaps and would Pakistan reconsider its position and adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law?

Pakistan defined the minority based only on religion and did not recognize those based on ethnicity, race and language.  Did the State Party intend to broaden the definition of minority in the legislation to provide the protection for other minority groups?

Another Expert noted that Pakistan had one of the lowest tax-to-gross domestic product ratio and asked how its financial resources would be increased without putting the burden on the lower income families.

In a series of questions about discrimination, the delegation was asked about the intentions to remove discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, remedy the denial of reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities and adopt a policy to monitor caste-based discrimination.

Referring to the Afghani refugees and undocumented asylum seekers who had been returned, and who had been subjected to proof of registration, what was the legal framework for dealing with them?  Was the Government aware of their abuse by the police?  What would happen to those whose registration cards were valid only until 2017?

About two million people were internally displaced in Pakistan, and another five million due to natural disasters.  What was the policy on internally displaced persons especially in terms of preventing abuses against them?

What were the guarantees – and the reality - of judicial independence in Pakistan?

According to the Zina Hudood Ordinance, if a woman reported rape and did not have four male witnesses, she would stand accused of adultery and would face imprisonment.  Was this discriminatory law and practice constitutional and what were the Government’s plans to abolish it?  Did the Government consider requiring four Muslim women instead of men as witnesses?

The Protection of Women Act and the National Commission on the Status of Women provided for the protection of the rights of women, while access to justice in Pakistan relied on three systems: the civil law, the Islamic law, and the informal traditional justice system (jirgas).  Under this multiple system, what were the guarantees of an effective access to justice for women and how the conflicts between those three separate justice systems were resolved?  Were women aware of their rights?

Another Expert asked what was Pakistan doing to comply with its obligations  under the Covenant to devote maximum available resources in the areas of health and education?

In a series of questions on the rights of women, an Expert commented that many of these were hindered, including  inheritance rights which defined that a female child was entitled to only half of the inheritance.  Polygamy was allowed under the law, whereas polyandry was not and the Council of Islamic Ideology had blocked an initiative to ban forced child marriage for some castes and minorities.   Could the Delegation comment on all those disturbing issues?

Referring to the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, an Expert commented that there were mutual accusations about terrorism on both sides for harbouring terrorists.  Was Pakistan intending to build a wall on the Afghan border?

Pakistan had gained its independence based on the right of peoples to self-determination under the Covenant and was playing a leadership role on the rights of people to self-determination.  Beyond diplomatic efforts, which thus far were vain, did Pakistan have any means to extend this right to its peoples and implement it?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that most of the Covenant rights were guaranteed under the Constitution, and these were divided in two parts: the rights under Part 1 were justiciable, while those under Part 2 were not.  The latter were reflected in codes, and these were being enforced.  Thus, all fundamental rights were in practice justiciable and the courts were implementing them.  The main corpus of fundamental rights was already a part of the Constitution.

The devolution of power from the centre to the provinces had started three years ago.  The Government was putting in place institutional mechanisms to ensure the distribution of power between all levels, and a lot of capacity-building activities were ongoing.

Regarding human rights defenders, Pakistan had been on the war front since 1969 and over 30,000 people had died.  Perpetrators of terrorist crimes were being punished.
Complete protection was being given to witnesses, and a new law was in the pipeline guaranteeing witness protection.

The development budget in 2013 was 330 billion Rupees.  Recently this had been tripled, and a significant percent of it went to education.
  
Responding to questions raised about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the delegation said that homosexuality was an offence according to Muslims and this was part of the law.  This was a very sensitive issue in Pakistan. 

On the independence of the judiciary, in 2007 the military regime had sacked the judiciary, which had subsequently been restored by the current Prime Minister.  Courts had a budget and full control of appointments.  No judge could be appointed by the executive.

The Zina Hudood Ordinance had been amended; four male witnesses were no longer required and rape could be affirmed by a single testimony.  The Government had completely changed the legislation and measures related to rape. 

Over 350 complaints had been sent to the National Human Rights Commission including against Government officials.  The Commission had the right to conduct visits without prior announcement.  Its budget had been increased by 150 per cent, and weighed about half of the budget of the Ministry of Justice.  The Commission had been established under the Paris Principles.  There was an established cooperation procedure between the Commission and the Government which in no way took away from its independence.  The Commission also oversaw the work of the armed forces, and the Government was mandated to send a report to the Commission within three months in this regard.

The Women Parliamentary Caucus was an informal forum where women discussed relevant issues and shared experiences in formulating policies and legislation.  A lot of work had been done with regards to the rights of women.  Access to justice initiatives included the establishment of the National Commission on the Status of Women, and the Caucus’s close partnership with the police bureau had resulted in women in the police force.  The Domestic Violence Bill had been passed resulting in 26 women crisis centres and the establishment of telephone hotlines.

Pakistan was a nation of refugees and had taken in refugees from many regions and countries, including the Balkans, Poland, and Afghanistan.  Five million Afghan refugees had been taken in, and there would be no forcible repatriation of refugees.  The bilateral assistance programme had given fruit to 3,000 scholarships given to Afghanis to study in Pakistan. 

Regarding the border with Afghanistan, every country had a sovereign right and duty to protect all its citizens.

Pakistan was born out of self-determination and democracy, and the founder of Pakistan was recognized as one of the greatest democrats of the century.  Pakistan would continue to promote human rights in this regard.  Peaceful and negotiated rights were the way to go forward on this issue.

Pakistan had an open and vibrant society.  Recently, forty human rights defenders had been awarded by Pakistan.

Most of the provinces were allocating 20 per cent of their budgets to education.  In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in Baluchistan, the Government had put in place a reimbursement scheme, based on building the capacity to enable students to compete.  About 17,000 students had benefited from this scheme.  Many other initiatives were in place, including skills training programmed for youth in those areas.
 
Follow-up Questions

An Expert inquired about the promotion of human rights in the schools and asked the delegation to provide case laws which reflected what the National Human Rights Commission had done on the ground.

Another Expert asked for a clarification of the rape law, and what happened if a woman brought a case of rape before the courts.  Was adultery still dealt with by the Law on Evidence?  What was the percentage of women in the police and were they present in the communities?

The delegation was also asked to provide further information on the adherence of the National Human Rights Commission to the Paris Principles, whether the taxes would put the burden on low income families, on the data on the rights of the Dalits and the action taken to guarantee their rights, and on the inheritance law which defined that woman was entitled to only 50 per cent of the inheritance.

What was being done to prevent early child marriage and forced conversion of non-Muslim women?

Experts saluted the recent criminalization of honour killings and asked about the number of cases filed under this act.

Would Pakistan change the definition of minority to reflect all minority groups and what was the status of the Foreign Status Act?
 
In the next cluster of questions, Committee Experts asked for the data on employment and unemployment, when the national census would be conducted, and whether the quotas for women and minorities in the work place were being implemented.

Would it not be necessary to have one labour law that would include all labour-related rights?  Under the current legislation it was difficult for the Committee to assess whether the workers in Pakistan were enjoying favourable conditions of work.

Was the minimum wage enough to provide an adequate standard of living and what measures were being taken to apply the uniform minimum wage equal to the living wage?

The number of accidents in the work place was very high, noted the Experts and asked how the Government ensured safety at work and prevented occupational diseases.

What measures were in place to ensure that informal economy workers – 70 per cent of whom were women – enjoyed labour protection?  What was being done to protect children from labour exploitation, including from bonded labour?

On the gender pay gap, was there the concept of equal pay for work of equal value?  

Committee Experts remarked that allegedly, there were not enough labour inspectors: there was one inspector for every 25,000 workers, and asked about the basis for the many restrictions to form trade unions and collective bargaining.  How many people were covered under social insurance scheme, and was it enough to live on?

Responses by the Delegation

In response to the questions raised by the Experts, the delegation said that many initiatives had been adopted in view of labour rights, including the abolishment of the Bonded Labour Act.  The Constitution of Pakistan under Article 17 provided for freedom of association, while Article 38 provided for the social and economic welfare.

There were numerous activities under the Labour Protection Framework, which was comprised of national and provincial action plans, that ensured that the enacted laws were compliant with the provisions of the International Labour Organisation Conventions.

The delegation recognized the need to update and consolidate the labour laws, and said that the process was already in place and was at a very advanced stage.

Regarding domestic workers, the Government had tried to put a law in place but this had not gone through.  Currently, a policy to this effect was at an advanced stage.

The census was currently being conducted in several languages.  It would be the first time that the third gender would officially be added to the database.

Over the past two decades Pakistan had made great strides in terms of empowerment of women and the realization of the women’s rights.  Many laws had been passed but laws did not mean everything – the most important was a change in attitudes and mind sets.  Every Government had been undertaking large awareness programmes and recently, the Prime Minister had approved a three-years awareness raising programme on empowerment of women. 

Women were part of the judiciary, they were ministers, diplomats and ambassadors; certain provinces had adopted the mandatory 30 per cent representation of women in provincial governments, there was a mandatory 22 per cent women representation in the national parliament, and there were local laws for the representation of women on grassroots levels.

It was true that there were three justice systems, namely the civil law, the Islamic law and the traditional laws, or jirgas.  Jirgas were rare and criminalized in Pakistan, but in some unfortunate events those were still used.  Islamic law was not a separate body of law, it was administered through courts.  The legal system in Pakistan was borrowed from the common law, some personal laws and some provisions of the Islamic law.  Personal laws were controlled by Muslim personal jurisprudence, and the rest was controlled by the civil law.  The national Law Review Committee had been set up to update and modernise civil and criminal laws.

Under the law, inheritance for women was mandatory and it was under the dictates of the Muslim jurisprudence.  In some aspects women got half, but women also inherited from two sides – her father and her husband.  This was a tradition and it would be hard to change.  The law had been changed to address the long waiting period for women to obtain their inheritance and now it was mandatory to automatically register the inheritance in the woman’s name without her having to resort to courts.

Polygamy still existed but was very rare.  Under the law, there were two conditions under which it could happen: one was with the permission of the first wife, and if the first wife did not give permission, an Arbitration Council had to approve of it.  If the Arbitration Council did not approve, then it was  a criminal offence.

Several months ago, Pakistan had passed the law which criminalized forced marriage and had increased the punishment to up to seven years if it was practiced by a minority group – Dalit, Hindu, Parsi, Christian and others - so this law would serve as a great deterrent.

Turning to questions raised in the second cluster, and specifically concerning the unemployment data, the delegation said that there were 61 million workers in the labour force: 43 per cent were in the agriculture sector, 22 per cent in the industry and 35 per cent in the service sector.  Of those, 27 per cent belonged to the formal economy while the rest, or 73 per cent, belonged to the informal economy.

A new National Labour Protection Framework was in the pipeline and would be ready by the end of July.  The provincial labour plans would feed into this plan, and were being enacted now.  Pakistan had ratified 36 International Labour Organisation Conventions, including the eight fundamental ones: on the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, forced labour, child labour, minimum age, equal remuneration, and on discrimination.  The themes in the framework included the protection of children, occupation safety, migrant workers, indigenous peoples, seafarers, dock-farers, and others.

There was an awareness on the part of the Government that it was difficult to make ends meet under the current minimum wage, and currently, talks were under way to equalize the minimum wage with the living wage.  The Welfare Fund provided housing facilities for workers, and children went to the best school of their choosing and all their fees, including transportation, school uniforms, health insurance for life, and others were covered.

Among the steps taken to decrease unemployment and support youth were the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme, under which 50 per cent of the beneficiaries were women, and the Benazir Income Support Programme.

There was no gender discrimination in employment, and in cases where this existed, such as wage gaps, the Government addressed it through talks with the Employers Federation of Pakistan.

Trade unions were allowed under the law for all occupations with the exception of three sectors – the defence, police and officials engaged with emergency services.  Talks were under way to extend it to the banking sector, which had previously been restricted under the law.

On the informal economy, the Government was working towards formalizing some sectors, such as fisheries.

Madrasas were a form of education at the grassroots level, and were very popular in Pakistan.  The education imparted in the madrasas was mostly religious.  The  Government was looking to formalize this education, as well as improve it and expand the topics taught, through talks with the largest union of madrasas.

Follow-up Questions and Answers
 
With regards to the occupational health and safety, Committee Experts referred to the stone-crushing companies and high levels of silicosis and asked about the progress made in addressing safety issues in this industry.  What measures were in place to protect workers against reprisals if they wanted to form a trade union?

Experts also asked about measures taken to ensure that all people who could benefit from the Benazir Income Support Programme, could claim their rights and benefits, and whether the programme was rights or charity based - in other words, did a person who had been refused this benefit have the right to file a complaint?

Even with the best legislation, there were usually problems in the implementation, Experts noted and asked why the Government was unable to invest more into the efforts to enforce its own laws.  For example, the minimum wage aimed to provide a minimum standard of living; when wages were not fair there was poverty, and wherever there was poverty, there were security concerns.  What were the long-term plans to deal with all those issues, and to adopt the adequate laws and policies?

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, invited the delegation to consult the Committee’s General Comment N°23 on the right to work.

Responding, the delegation said that the Occupation Safety and Health Law had been drafted following the unfortunate silicosis incidents in the Gujranwala Province, which had demonstrated the need for a stand-alone law covering health and occupational safety in the workplace.

The Benazir Income Support Programme had been envisaged by the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, said the delegation and explained that the spirit of it was much larger than a cash handout: it was an incremental change and a generational goal which had to be looked at within the framework of a wider goal of women and girl empowerment, especially in the rural areas.  It was a rights-based programme with the ability to reach all beneficiaries.  The disbursement had risen from 16 billion to 96 billion Rupees in 2015, and the programme had reduced poverty by seven per cent.  There was now a National Social Economic Registry which updated the database that had been established five years earlier.

On women in the workplace, there was a ten per cent quota reserved for women in certain occupations and it was being gradually increased.  In the provincial parliaments, 33 per cent of the seats were reserved for women and in the Punjab province, there were quotas for women in various sectors, ranging from five to 15 per cent. 

The Government was working towards strengthening its labour inspection machinery.  In 2014-2015, there had been 334 labour inspectors, whereas in 2017 this figure had risen to over 500.

The National Human Rights Commission would begin its application to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions with regard to the fulfilment of the Paris Principles in June 2017.
 
Questions by the Committee Experts

In the third series of questions, a Committee Expert quoted the Qur’an and said that polygamy should be absolutely rejected.  The delegation was asked to provide examples of case law and sentences meted out to perpetrators of honour crimes and to explain why abortion was rejected even in such difficult conditions such as incest.  The Expert invited the country to revise its policies on this issue.

Experts further requested the delegation to give examples of case law regarding child marriages, to inform on specific prosecutions of those who violated the recent law that had raised the legal marriage age from 16 to 18, and to explain how the law could be applicable to some and not all the minorities.  Why should the Christians be subject to a law that was not relevant to them?  In addition to those issues, there was a concern about the high prevalence of gang rape, abductions and kidnappings. 
 
What was being done to counter the problem of birth registration which excluded children from basic rights, including health and education?

Experts noted that almost half of the Pakistani population was poor and asked how the Government expected to obtain security with that kind of data.  On top of this, 58 per cent of the households were food insecure.  Noting that the funds of the Government were aimed at security, Experts stressed that security at home was more urgent than security on the border.  There was a problem with access to clean water and sanitation with 53 per cent of the population having no access to clean water, and 75 per cent were without access to sanitation.

Another Expert raised questions regarding breastfeeding, noting that despite the two programmes launched by the country, infant mortality rates were alarming; many children were dying due to infections and diseases that could be avoided through breastfeeding.  How was the 2009 strategy to reduce infant mortality funded?  What was the intention concerning the expansion of the 1981 International Code of Breast-milk Substitutes and what were the sanctions for the violators?
 
Responses by the Delegation

Answering the Experts’ questions, the delegation said that the Government was committed to increasing the public spending on health to three per cent of the gross domestic product by 2025, and was already working towards this goal.  In 2016, the health budget had been 79 billion Rupees and this year it was 100 billion Rupees.  People living under the poverty line had been issued health cards.

Nutrition had been put at the centre stage of Pakistan’s development policies and there was a programme which targeted women of child-bearing age.  In the Sindh Province, they received micronutrient supplementation and counselling, and this programme had been extended to other provinces.

Breastfeeding was a natural and cultural tendency – there was no need to raise awareness for it.  

Polygamy had been unfortunately part of the culture for centuries, and laws had a minor role to play when such traditions were ingrained in the society.  However, the laws were now in place and these practices were very minimal, and when they did occur, they were addressed by the Government.

The pardon for honour killings had been done away with, and the prosecution scheme had been tightened.  The incidences of honour killings had drastically reduced.

Abortion was criminalized but in practice, this law was not being implemented.  The head of the delegation said that he had not seen a single case of prosecution for abortion since his days in the university.  Since the 1990s, a space for abortion had been created to allow for legal abortion when the health of the mother was in danger. 

Early childhood marriage had been a practice in areas where the child was becoming a burden at home.  The Government was targeting this problem through strengthening education whereby the child would no longer represent a burden as they would be going to school.  Underage marriage was criminalized.  In certain parts of the country, there was a heavy penalty, in others not.

The commitment of the Government to abolish the death penalty was very strong.

Birth registration was on two levels – one was the National Data Authority which registered the child at birth.  The other level was to oblige a person applying for a driver’s license or a job to register their child.

Pakistan was working hard to provide access to safe water through several means, including by improving drinking water sources, getting rid of arsenic and chloride in ground water, and improving access to rain water. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

In a further round of questions, Committee Experts recognized the progress made in the field of education, including the increase in spending and the adoption of the national plan of action.  However, problems remained, including the lack of access to education for girls, illiteracy, dropout rates, quality of education and lack of proper toilets in schools.  Despite the increase, the education budget remained low.

What were the guarantees to raise public spending to ensure equal and total access to education for all children in Pakistan?  What were the mechanisms to reduce disparities related to gender, income and geographical location?  What measures would be put in place to increase quality of education?

The delegation was asked about the access to education for children with disabilities and internally displaced children, and measures put in place to ensure that privatization of schools did not lead to segregation.

Experts raised concern about indoctrination practices in some fundamentalist madrasas and asked how this concern was being addressed, and how the Government ensured that children accessed madrasas free of charge?  

In the context of the insurgency and counter-insurgency situation, what was being done to ensure the security in schools?

Which measures were being taken to ensure universal and equal access to the Internet?

Some minority languages, including Urdu and Arabic, were protected in theory and in practice, but others were not – what was being done to protect all minority languages in practice?

What was the status of minorities in Pakistan and the respect for their rights? 

The ongoing existence of the blasphemy laws was very disturbing and a source of great concern to the Committee, especially as blasphemy carried the death penalty.  How was the law harmonized with respect for cultural diversity of non-Muslims?

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, said that on the one hand Pakistan was going forward, but on the other hand, it was confronted with a persisting negative understanding of cultural stereotypes that held the country back.  Steps had been made, she said and urged the country to address the real issues.

Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation noted that Pakistan was facing a number of traditional problems: it was a country in transition that was evolving from a semi-feudal society to a contemporary State, and in some parts of the country, conflicts were still resolved outside the courts.  The delegation stressed that there was a difference between modernization and Westernization and that a number of universal values gave way to cultural relativity.  Over the past 200 years, sacrifices had been made to defend and consolidate democracy, particularly by State representatives.

There were 33,000 registered non-governmental organizations in Pakistan.  The Government had no control over their funding, and Pakistan was one of the least regulated countries in the world as far as non-governmental organizations were concerned.

There were 20,000 madrasas and an estimated two million students studied there.  Madrasas provided education, housing and moral teachings referred to as religious.  Modern forms of violence had started on September 11, 2001; the mastermind of the attack had studied in the London School of Economics while as many as 98 per cent of the attacks came from university students, said the delegation adding that this did not mean universities had to be closed.  The madrasas would not be closed; they were working with the Government against terrorism and were regulated ten times more than the non-governmental organizations.  The people of Pakistan had a right to be respected, to choose their religion and to elect their Government.

The Law on Blasphemy had been introduced in 2016 and the delegation stressed the difference between the freedom of expression and abuse.  The law was applicable to all, Muslims and Christians alike.  If a case of blasphemy was registered, it would be investigated by the head of the district police.  All citizens, minorities and religions had the right to be respected and these rights were enshrined in the Covenant.

Regarding the promotion of regional languages, Pakistan was a country of diversity, where 70 languages were spoken.  Whereas it was impossible to teach all 70 languages, these were nurtured through cultural events and music.  All regional languages were living languages and were spoken on a daily basis.  On 21 February, a Mother Language Day was celebrated.  In addition to this, initiatives such as journals, seminars, events and other activities were available and took place on a regular basis.

Regarding education, it was true that huge challenges remained, including 44 per cent of children who were out of school, infrastructure problems and other issues.  However, progress was being made: the number of out of school children had decreased from 24 million to less than 21 million; the adjusted net enrolment had increased to 77 per cent in 2016; access to drinking water in education facilities had risen from 66 to 71 per cent.
 
Efforts were being implemented to bridge the public and private divide, by creating standards for quality education.  A National Action Plan spoke to protecting the children and a National Crisis Management programme was in place for emergency situations.

The telecommunications sector was one of the highest growing sectors in Pakistan. There was an estimate of approximately 100 million users of cell phones.  Internet usage had doubled, from 18.5 million to 34 million, from ten to over 17 per cent of the population.

Regarding hate speech, Pakistan had been at the forefront, due to the extreme rise of right-wing terrorism.  Safeguards against hate speech and discrimination were enumerated in the Constitution.

The National Police Bureau was engaged with the interfaith harmony committees, and the civil society to promote interfaith dialogue.  Realizing the importance of promoting this dialogue, the Government had created 124 interfaith harmony committees at the district level.  Pakistan was an extremely diverse country, with ten international religious festivals being celebrated every year.   

Follow-Up Questions
 
An Expert asked for data on the number of perpetrators of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence and rape, shelters and a hotline.  If there was no prosecution for abortion, why was the law maintained?  Wasn’t this the right time to abolish the law?  And in order to prevent abortion, wouldn’t it be wiser to provide more contraceptives and family planning?

Were children with disabilities included in the education efforts of the Government?

Another Expert was concerned about development-based evictions related to dams and other infrastructure projects, as was the case of the orange metro line in Lahore which apparently had an impact on historic sites and homes.  Was there any specific legislation in Pakistan which protected against irregular evictions?

Poverty and landlessness had a particular impact on low-class communities, scheduled casts and Dalits – what were the plans to uplift those categories of the population in the enjoyment of their rights?

Another Expert asked the delegation to clarify whether in the Sharia law, a woman’s testimony was worth half of that of a man’s.

On education,  Experts asked whether the textbooks would be revised to remove stereotypes, about the plans to offer school instruction in the mother languages to the numerous out of school children, which provincial languages were official, and how internally displaced children were being educated.

How would the Government deal with infant and maternal mortality?

Access to land by peasants was strongly related to poverty.  How was the Government tackling this issue and also how was it tackling child labour?

Another Expert, referring to the fact that Pakistan had one of the biggest glaciers in the world, and having in mind recent floods, asked how the Government was planning to assess climate change problems and how it would respond to the affected population.

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, referring to cash transfer programmes, asked how far the Benazir Income Support Programme built into a social protection floor.

Responses by the Delegation

Regarding housing, the Government had a target to create two million houses.  No problems were faced by the Dalit “untouchables” community in Pakistan.

In 2016, there were 107 cases of domestic violence.  There were 26 Government Provincial Benazir Bhutto Shelters, however, each province had its own shelters, including four in Punjab and six in Sind.  Every new non-governmental organization had a new helpline, and there was a confusion in this regard.  There was a provincial and national help line.  There were opportunities for legal redress and domestic violence.

The Benazir Income Support Programme, the cash transfer programme, involved the setting up of a bank account, biometric verification and various other steps.  It was an opportunity to gather data, to enable women to have a national identity card, open a bank account, and facilitate transfers through their mobile phones. In 2008, only four per cent of the women had bank accounts; in 2015, it was 15 per cent and the Government aimed for a further increase.

Regarding expenditures on issues related to the rights under the Covenant, the health budget had gone up six fold. The average expenditure on education had also increased, while expenditure on higher education had doubled.  The social protection budget had also had doubled.

In the higher education sphere, there was a great progress in the enrolment of women, and medical and engineering fields, which had previously been dominated by men, were becoming majority female.

Schools were symbols of modernism and were under attack by terrorists and extremists.

Pakistan was the seventh most affected country by climate change and it was devoted to these issues and to the Paris Agreement.  Rising temperatures, the destruction of forests, floods, tsunamis, threats of the sea level rise in coastal areas, and increase of cyclone activities were all taking place.  The recent tsunami, dubbed the “slow tsunami” had swept away 40 million homes.  These were monumental challenges and the Government was doing its best to address them, through policies such as the Pakistan Climate Change Act of 2016 and the Government-launched Green Pakistan Programmes, under which one million trees were planted, awareness raising had been done, and disaster preparedness was under way.  But it was almost a case of one step forward three steps back.

The number of registered refugees had increased six-fold in 2016.

Following the horrific massacre of schoolchildren, the Government had made protecting children a priority through extra security measures, such as building walls surrounding the schools.

Pakistan had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 and ratified it in 2011.  A series of measures had been put in place, including the allocation of quotas for persons with disabilities in the work place, special seats in the public transportation, and an inclusive education.

The relevant International Labour Organisation Conventions on child labour had been ratified and the Government was working to improve the situation on the ground in this regard.
 
Concluding Remarks

LYDIA CARMELITA RAVENBERG, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Pakistan, truly appreciated the dialogue which had been interactive, constructive and informative.  Though some questions remained unanswered, the delegation had tried its best to clarify doubts.  It was regrettable that the common core document of Pakistan was not available as it was crucial to assessing the situation of the implementation of the Covenant in the country.

KAMRAN MICHAEL, Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan, thanked the Committee for engaging in this frank and open dialogue.  The delegation appreciated the Committee’s valuable input on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights and tried to address the queries and concerns the Experts raised.  The Government was firmly determined to strengthen its commitment to human rights.  Pakistan had always appreciated the important work done by the human rights mechanisms in general and the treaty bodies specifically.  Thanking the Committee for the constructive observations, he said that Pakistan would strive to address the existing gaps and continue to tirelessly strive to reach economic, social and cultural rights for all.

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, acknowledged many plans and legislative measures in place, and explained that the Committee’s mandate was to deal with the shortcomings regarding the rights under the Covenant and expressed hope that the Government would see the concluding observations in this spirit.  This had been Pakistan’s first dialogue with the Committee and she hoped that it would find the concluding observations useful.

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