International Human Rights Standards- Street Children

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989

Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which affirms the survival, development, protection and participation rights of all children. While there are no provisions pertaining specifically to “street children”: the universal, indivisible, inalienable and interdependent nature of child rights means that the provisions apply equally to children in street including the rights of children to protection, education, health care, and social services . The relevant Articles pertaining to protection which should be taken into account for street children include Articles, 3, 19, 20, 24, 26, 27, 28, 32, 33, 34, 36 and 39.

General Comment No. 21 (GC21)

General Comment No. 21, titled “Children in Street Situations,” was adopted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2017 to provide governments with guidance on developing comprehensive national strategies for street children, taking their respect, dignity and rights into consideration. It focuses on the rights of children living and/or working on the streets, providing a comprehensive interpretation of the CRC as it applies to these children. GC21 is significant because it highlights the unique challenges faced by street-connected children and underscores the obligations of states parties to protect and promote their rights.

Key aspects covered in General Comment No. 21 include:

Definition and recognition of street-connected children: The document provides a definition of street-connected children, recognizing them as individuals under the age of 18 for whom the street environment plays a significant role in their lives.

Rights of street-connected children: GC21 elaborates on the rights of street-connected children as enshrined in the CRC, emphasizing their right to survival, development, protection, and participation. It underscores the importance of ensuring access to essential services such as education, healthcare, shelter, and social support.

Protection from violence, exploitation, and discrimination: The General Comment highlights the vulnerability of street-connected children to various forms of violence, exploitation, and discrimination. It emphasizes the obligation of states to take proactive measures to protect these children from harm and to address the root causes of their vulnerability.

Legal identity and access to justice: GC21 emphasizes the importance of ensuring that street-connected children have access to legal identity documents and effective mechanisms for seeking redress in cases of rights violations.

Participation and empowerment: The document underscores the right of street-connected children to participate in decisions that affect their lives and to have their voices heard in matters concerning them. It calls for the empowerment of these children through education, skills training, and opportunities for social integration.

Other international treaties relevant to street children are:

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)

Ratified by Pakistan in 2008, the ICESCR recognizes the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing, and housing. These provisions are relevant to addressing the issues faced by street children who often lack access to basic necessities.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in 2010, which includes provisions related to the protection of vulnerable groups, including children. It emphasizes civil and political rights such as the right to life, freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to education.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Although not directly related to children, CEDAW, ratified by Pakistan in 1996, indirectly addresses the issues faced by street children by promoting gender equality and women’s rights, which are integral to addressing the root causes of child vulnerability.

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography:

Ratified in 2011, this protocol supplements the CRC by providing further protections for children against exploitation and abuse, including those who may be at risk of ending up on the streets due to trafficking or forced labor.

International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions

Pakistan has ratified several ILO conventions related to child labor, including Convention No. 138 concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment and Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. These conventions are relevant to addressing the issue of children being forced to work on the streets.

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