PN Members Stand up for Children and Women in Pakistan

March 12, 2013

Hurried legislation by an assembly in its dying hours generally fails to receive public respect as the one passed following a fuller, contentious debate on the floor of the house. Such legislation is considered motivated, consequent to some behind the scene compromise or a filler to make up for the otherwise lacklustre performance of the assembly. But definitely not the one the National Assembly did on Tuesday by adopting two private bills moved by relentless life-long campaigner of the rights of weaker sections of our society particularly women and children Dr Attiya Inayatullah. Both the bills were the longstanding public demands, but never received the government's due notice and she had moved it on her own. 

That the house passed them unanimously however is a fact that tends credence to assumption that deep-down in their hearts the members across the aisle were greatly convinced of their need. Caning of students by their hard-nosed teachers is not something entirely new; we had it since times immemorial. There was this unquestioned proposition 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. While over time parents stopped practising this, it still governs schools where teachers, often in fits of their anger, use the rod rather harshly. Perhaps this caning by teacher could have lasted many more years if TV channels have evinced little or no interest in bringing home to parents and others, directly from schools, how 'kind' are teachers. 

Dr Attiya Inayatullah's Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill provides for the "protection of children against corporal punishment in all types of educational institutions, including formal and non-formal, both public and private, and in children-care institutions, including foster care and any other alternative care setting, both public and private". Simply put, the new legislation would have sweeping jurisdiction and the 'madressahs' are not excluded. 

The punishment is quite deterring too. Not only would the errant have his career seriously affected he/she would be liable to one-year imprisonment plus a fine of Rs 50,000. Let us hope and pray the teaching fraternity takes the new enactment in stride and schools managements ensure its prompt application. At the same time, when teachers would have discarded the use of rod, parents would be expected to get seriously about their responsibility that they give time to their children, examine their homework and ensure that their progeny goes to school fully prepared. Of the causes that substantially add to our national school dropout rate the fear of corporal punishment at the hands of teachers is at the top. 

It would also greatly help the students grow up more confident of their selves and respectful of the teaching institutions. One wonders why such a vital piece of legislation had to be courtesy a private member bill and passed as a 'one for the road' gift to the nation at the fag end of the National Assembly. 

The other bill, jointly sponsored by Dr Attiya Inyatullah and Donya Aziz, seeks to promote the reproduction healthcare rights of men and women and to readdress the complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, which are leading causes and consequences of mortality and morbidity for women of reproductive age. In Pakistan, on average 80 women die every day because of pregnancy-related complications. Given the fact that ours is a highly conservative society, where issues like pregnancy and childbirth are considered as hush-hush private affair. 

Resultantly, women fail to receive legal application to their right of life equal to the men as enjoined by Islam. That this bill too was passed unanimously is a positive development; it's nothing short of a flicker of light at the other end of the tunnel. Let's hope and pray the next National Assembly opens with fuller, comprehensive debates and discussions to do legislation on such public-interest matters. 

Originially published by Business Recorder

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