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The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights expressed displeasure on Thursday on Pakistan’s inclusion in the United States Child Soldier Prevention Act (CSPA) list, saying there was no concept of any recognised militia or child soldiers in the Pakistan Army.

As the briefing on the CSPA list started, Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari stated that the Pakistan army was a professional military and termed the act of adding Pakistan to the category a “politically motivated” move.

The minister said that recruitment to the Pakistan armed forces was voluntary and done through a competitive process. “Minimum age for recruitment is 16 years but recruited personnel are not sent into combat until they turn 18,” she said, adding: “This is mala fide intent on the part of United States."

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The minister completed the briefing, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed expressed his disconcert at the ignorance of the US State Department. “This move can have long-term ramifications for the US-Pakistan diplomatic as well as economic relations,” Sayed said.

“We should firmly put our case forward jointly with Turkey, which has also been included in the list. Joint letter should be addressed to the US State Department in consultation with Foreign Office in order to resolve the issue at the earliest,” the PML-N senator added.

The committee chairman questioned the rationale behind inclusion of Pakistan in such a list as “there is no concept of any recognised militia or child soldiers in Pakistan”. The members also discussed the possibility of approaching relevant committee of the US Congress on the matter.

Meanwhile, the officials from the human rights ministry briefed the committee members on harassment and public assault at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore, against a girl on the Independence Day; progress made in apprehending the culprits and the steps to be taken to curb such menace.

Human Rights ministry’s director general informed the committee members that the ministry had taken up the matter with the Punjab police and a report had already been received regarding progress in the case. The report stated that identification parade of 141 arrested suspects was arranged on Wednesday.

The report further said that six suspects were identified by the victim, while nine suspects were identified through the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the official told the committee, adding that further investigation was under way to arrest the remaining culprits.

Committee member Faisal Sabzwari stressed the need for creating awareness about these issues. “We need to focus on nation-building and create a strong narrative to counter such moral policing. There is a need to create awareness among masses though comprehensive communication/media campaigns on issues related to treatment of women in order to bring about a behavioural change in the society.”

Mazari said that the Constitution accorded equal rights to all its citizens regardless of gender, cast, race or religion. She added that women’s rights were of paramount importance and women should be free to visit public places without any fear.

Sayed lamented that women were not safe even in Islamabad and the widespread prevalence of such cases showed that the system had failed to protect the citizens. The chair maintained that there was need to educate men on respecting women without any preconditions through inclusion of relevant material in the regular curriculum. He directed the ministry to keep a tab on development in the case.

Meanwhile, the members were also briefed on growing incidents of suicide in Chitral and surrounding areas, its causes, and the way forward. The human rights director general said that Chitral was known for a higher rate of suicide.

“One of the main reasons of the suicide is poverty as well as lack of job opportunities for youth of that area,” he revealed, adding that children were being pressured by parents to attain higher marks in examination was also exerting great deal of stress on young minds.

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Mazari told the committee members that the ministry was working on “decriminalising suicide” as it is being done throughout the world. “Suicide is a medical issue not a criminal issue and it should be dealt with accordingly,” she added.

Award winning short film “Darya kay is Paar’ was also screened during the meeting. The producer of the movie, Nighat Akbar Shah, who participated in the discussion via video link from the United States; outlined the steps to counter the dangerous trend of suicides in Chitral; recommended that a task force should be established and helpline created for providing consultation to vulnerable population of that area. She stressed the need for providing career counselling for the students and parents alike.

The committee also took up the “National Commission on the Status of Women (Amendment) Bill, 2020”, introduced by Senator Kamran Murtaza in the Senate sitting held on July 12, 2021. The committee unanimously passed the bill after due deliberations.

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