Our officer Mehwish Bhatti visits the Save the Children offices to learn the truth.
Neurotic Pakistan authorities have ordered that Save the Children leave the country. Local police have sealed off their Islamabad offices and foreign staff working for the international charity have been given 15 days to leave the country. Save the Children have not had foreign staff working in Pakistan over the last 18 months for their safety.
The Government have said the action taken is in riposte to anti-Pakistani activities undertaken by Save the Children, including alleging the charity were involved in the fake vaccination programme used by the CIA to track down Osama Bin Laden.
The charity vehemently denies being involved with the CIA or Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who carried out the programme.The charity has had no foreign staff in the country for the past 18 months in response to the accusations. The charity was providing employment to 1200 Pakistani people in projects focused on education, food and health, and working in more than 60 districts across Pakistan. Save the children have operated in Pakistan for 35 years and have been shocked by the accusations.
A government statement on Friday, quoting Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, said the organisations in question "are operating with support from the United States, Israel and India."
The minister said he planned to raise his concerns in parliament. The statement from the ministry said the government does not plan to ban all NGOs but is working on a plan to regulate and facilitate "legal" ones.
One Government official told the AFP news agency: "Their activities were being monitored since a long time. They were doing something which was against Pakistan's interest." A police official said that the charity's phone calls and offices had been placed under surveillance. Speaking to the Reuters news agency, he added that the charity's activities were "very suspicious".
Condemning the move, a Save the Children official told Reuters that the Pakistan government had been stopping aid shipments entering the country, "blocking aid to millions of children and their families". It comes after the Pakistani government announced it was tightening the rules for NGOs, revoking several of their licences. An interior ministry official said on Friday it had cancelled agreements with at least 15 foreign charities, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, on the advice of intelligence agencies that said the organisations had been “collecting sensitive data” from Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Foreign charities have complained that they have been treated with increasing hostility and suspicion in Pakistan, with obstacles to their work becoming ever more difficult especially in the last 6 months.
Acquiring visas for foreign employees has become nigh on impossible, with an additional pressure of official permission to travel outside of cities.
The official stance maintained by Pakistan's government is that agreements can be immediately cancelled if the charities are found to be involved in activities “considered detrimental to national interest, sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan”.
NGOs have complained that agreements can only be signed off after providing the government with excessive amounts of paperwork and information.
A spate of executions following the lifting of the moratorium on Pakistan's death sentencing caused a huge amount of criticism from human rights organisations.
Save the children often reported on the high child mortality rates and poor living conditions. Their report on the low level investment in education by Pakistan's Government caused huge focus on the issue in March this year (view bottom of post). The BPCA has also previously highlighted this, and the fact that Christians and other minorities are even less likely to achieve basic literacy levels, in our book: "The Targeting of 'Minority Others' in Pakistan". (click here)
Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
"This action against one of the world's most reputable and well known charities is indicative of the wall of silence that Pakistan is building. Attempts to silence voices that speak the truth about the oppression in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. I personally, have been banned from Pakistan for speaking out for the Christian minority. Pakistani authorities have long labelled me anti-Pakistani and not pro-justice, I have had to miss my mother in law's funeral and my cousin's wedding and was brutally beaten up at the Pakistani High Commission in London, when applying for a visiting visa." (For the full report click here.)
"Foreign aid budget should not be used to assist countries that do nothing to improve their poor human rights record. Moreover countries that lack transparency and accountability should be avoided at all costs. Britain and America may want to review their current sponsorship of a country that flaunts international law, demanding wholesale improvement or immediate termination of aid."
From Save the Children website:
Pakistan currently has a population of 179 million, making it the sixth most populous country in the world1. Various estimates, place 24% to 44% population, living below the poverty line. Recent economic shocks, large-scale emergencies and inflation, make accessing food increasingly difficult for the poorest households. According to the National Nutrition Survey-2011, 58% of households are food insecure in Pakistan.
Children constitute over 48% of the population of Pakistan2. Poverty stricken, children are the most affected segment of the society, who take on the economic burden and serve on menial jobs - sometimes working for 12-15 hours a day. In the absence of state protection mechanisms, they are often exposed to hazardous forms of labour, life on the streets, child prostitution, trafficking, sexual abuse and conflict with the law.
The low level of investment in children results in the violation of their rights; including their right to life. The under-five mortality rate in Pakistan is 94 per thousand live births, and the neonatal mortality rate is 54 per thousand live births3. The National Nutrition Survey-2011 identified 15.1% of children under 5 suffering from acute malnutrition, whereas, 43.6% children were found to be stunted.
Similarly, education does not merit much priority in public spending; sharing only 2.3% of the GDP. Pakistan Education Task Force reports that one in every ten children, not in school in the world, lives in Pakistan. There are 7.3 million out-of-school children in the country; ranking it at second number in the world.
1 www.census.gov.pk 2 Based on the 1998 proportion of below 18 years population 3 Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-07
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