Karachi: The Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC) held an online briefing session to discuss Finance Bill 2020 recommendation on tobacco taxation and demanded the Federal and Provincial governments to increase resource allocations to improve the status of child rights in Pakistan.
In opening remarks, Kashif Mirza, the Manager Communication from SPARC said that Pakistan has not made much progress on its commitment of providing free and quality education to every child according to article 25-A of Constitution.
He mentioned that according to official statistics, Pakistan has 22.84 million out-of-school children (age 05 to 16) which is the 2nd highest figure in the world. Allocating the salaries of teachers does not equate to working on education. Adequate budget should be allotted to convert primary schools in to middle and secondary schools to curb down the drop-out-ratio of children.
He added that this is much required step in improving children’s health. The surcharge of Rs10 for each cigarette pack can generate up to Rs. 40 billion in revenues. This will not only take cigarettes out of reach of children but it will also provide much needed funds for improvement of child healthcare system in Pakistan. According to National Nutrition Survey 2018 Pakistan is facing the triple burden of malnutrition. The survey found 40.2% of children under five years of age are stunted, while 17.7% suffer from wasting. Rs. 40 billion generated from Tobacco taxes can be directed towards funding health programs and government commitments such as those defined under National Health Vision 2016 – 2025. Tobacco is a non-essential product that in fact increases health burden and must be discouraged by implementing higher taxes.
Mr. Shahzad Qureshi, the Member of Sindh Assembly from PTI, appreciated the suggestions given by Senators Mohammad Ali Khan Saif and Ms. Kulsoom Parveen Parliament Secretary on Health in the Finance Bill 2020, suggesting increase in the FED on tobacco products. He further added, this suggestion if implemented would be a key step towards paving a bright future for children of our country. In the light of recommendations submitted to Senate in the Finance Bill 2020, Senator Muhammad Ali Khan Saif and Senator Kulsoom Parveen urged the government to increase FED and implement a surcharge on tobacco products.
Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, a member of Senate said Pakistan has around 87.938 million children approximately 47% of Pakistan’s total population. Its present as well as future depends on the survival, protection and promotion rights, and development of its children, who constitute the majority of our population. Our children are not our future. They are our present – here and now. The proposed recommendations including raising FED on Tier-1 up to Rs. 30 per packet. This tier comprises of the top brands, which captures 10 per cent of the market share without any significant competition. Tier-2 tier comprises of 90 per cent of the market share. The senators have proposed an increase of Rs. 10 per packet on this tier.
Mr. Iqbal Dheto, Member from Sindh of National Commission of Child Rights shared that the issue of child labour has moved on from just being an economic issue. It has become a protection concern now. Out of 12 million children engaged in labour force, many are moving towards hazardous forms in order to make their ends meet. This includes trafficking for commercial and sexual exploitation. He also expressed great concern at the alarming rate of cases of abuse surfacing against child domestic workers and called for a complete ban on hiring children as domestic help.
Mr. Amer Ejaz, Director, Budget Study Centre, CPDI, Mr. Tahir Dhindsa, Senior Journalist, Mr. Ahmed Mukhtar Naqshabandi, Consultant World Bank, Shumaila Muzzamil and Haris Jadoon also spoke on the occasion and said that the initial perception of COVID-19 effecting only elders and people with prior health conditions has long gone. After 3 months of lockdown, people have realized that children, have been the biggest effectees of this situation. Their access to education, health, nutrition, protection, and mental and physical development, has been dealt a heavy blow. If the policy makers do not consider this reality in resource allocation for child rights, the very survival of our children will be at stake.