ISLAMABAD   -   The government has decided to constitute a committee to support and protect orphans and street children in Pakistan, by the end of this week.

A meeting was held in this regard at Prime Minister’s Secretariat with Dr Sania Nishtar in chair to plan modalities and chalk out remit and scope of work of the committee. In her opening remarks, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection & Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar said, “It is very heartening that Pakistan is a very philanthropic nation as compared to other countries, and especially when it comes to support of orphanages and orphans, Pakistani community always stands out in the international community of nations. According to a UNICEF’s report released several years ago, Pakistan is a home to 4.2 million orphan children. This staggering figure is the collective responsibility of the public and private sector to support these precious children and give them all adequate resources including quality education, health, home, nutrition and other basic facilities to integrate them in the mainstream society. The generosity of Pakistani nation in creating orphanages, both state-owned and privately managed is commendable”.

Dr Nishtar said that prime minister was very keen to devise an inclusive policy for orphanages. “To support this, the government strongly feels that there is a need to draw on the strengths of all stakeholders and begin by standard settings, as this aspect has been neglected in the past from the perspective of public service delivery.”

As a first step, the government will constitute a committee for Orphanages and Orphans to support and protect orphans and street children in Pakistan. The committee will be notified later this week. In its preliminary phase of working, it is intended to work out basic standards in expanding overall scale and framework of social protection services to orphanages and orphans. Dr. Nishtar urged that the proposed committee should take initiative in chalking out the standards to run orphanages and children homes, keeping in view the national and international standards of care. Talking about the plight of street children, she called for the government, privately-owned orphanages and the community to join hands and define procedures to protect the orphans and street children from being exploited socially and sexually by concerned mafia. Further, to discourage child labor and enroll the street children in schools, their parents needed to be socially mobilised and economically supported so that they could pull out their children from street labor and send them to schools. The committee will be meeting regularly on weekly basis.

During the meeting, several presentations were made by heads and senior officials from Anjuman Faizul Islam, Edhi Foundation, Khubaib Foundation, Kashmir Orphans Relief Trust, SOS Children’s Village Pakistan, Penny Appeal, Al-Khidmat Foundation, KhpalKor (Swat), ZamungKor (KP). From the government’s side, Secretary Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division, Managing Director Pakistan Baitul Mal, Deputy Managing Director Pakistan Baitul Mal were present together with officials from Social Welfare Departments from Sindh, KP and Punjab, and Child Protection Bureau Punjab.

The participants were of the unanimous opinion that two problems needed immediate attention of the government. First, there was a pressing need to devise a comprehensive coordination mechanism centered at police department to administer protection of missing and runaway children and reconnect them with their families. Secondly, an inclusive media engagement policy needed to be in place to facilitate regular airtime for running regular advertisements of missing and runaway children on mainstream channels and dailies.

Managing Director Baitul Mal, Aon Abbas Bappi, said there were insufficient statistical figures available to government and national registry regarding orphans and orphanages in Pakistan and comprehensive orphanage standards were also lacking.