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CHILD Protection & Child Rights » VI. Regional Mechanisms » South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

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The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional body of representatives from eight countries to promote mutual assistance in economic, agricultural, environmental, etc sectors. In the 1970's then president of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rahman proposed creating a trade bloc of South Asian countries. In 1981, at a meeting held in Colombo, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka accepted the proposal. In August 1983 the leaders accepted the Declaration on South Asian Regional Cooperation. Finally on December 8th, 1985 heads of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka met and signed the charter instituting SAARC. In 2007 Afghanistan also joined as a SAARC member. In 1987 SAARC established the SAARC secretariat which resides in Katmandu, Nepal. The role of the secretariat is to monitor and ensure the implementation of the SAARC activities, advise the meetings of the association and correspond with international organizations.

The objectives of the association are as follows:

  • To advocate for the welfare of the peoples of South Asia so as to improve the quality of their lives
  • To promote the economic growth, social progress and cultural development of the region and allow every person to live with dignity and achieve their full potential
  • To build and reinforce a cooperative self-sufficiency among member countries
  • To allow for mutual understanding, dependence and acknowledgment of each countries problems
  • To promote cooperation and support in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields
  • To encourage collaboration with other developing nations
  • To create a common mutually beneficial stance on certain issues in the international forums
  • To work with other international bodies with similar aims and purposes

SAARC activities are mainly concentrated into the following areas: agricultural and rural, biotechnology, culture, economic, energy, environment, funding mechanism, human resource development, information communication and media, people to people contacts, poverty alleviation, science and technology, security aspects, social development, tourism and, trade and finance. SAARC also has adopted a number of conventions. There are two conventions that directly relate to children.

A. SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia

In 2002 during the SAARC decade of the rights of the child, the SAARC countries adopted the convention on promotion of child welfare in South Asia. The convention defines a child as any person who has not completed 18 years of age who is a national of the region, unless under national law majority is attained earlier. The purpose of the convention is to solidify the commitments the South Asian countries have made as the world summit and to other international bodies by encouraging mutual cooperation and assistance. The aim is to protect the rights of the child while realising the full potential of each child and their responsibilities and duties. This can be done by setting up regional arrangements to assist member states.

The convention states that countries should recognise the rights of a child as laid out in the UNCRC and uphold the rights of the family as primary caregivers, and the best interests of the child. To achieve their goals states regional priorities should be recognising the need for essential services such as education and health both preventive and curative, provide appropriate legal and administrative safety nets such as national laws that protect the child from abuse, exploitation, neglect, violence, discrimination, trafficking, and child labour. There is need to set up appropriate and child-friendly systems for juvenile justice, registration of births, child participation, etc. States should encourage local media to cater to the needs of children by providing them with information that is socially and culturally beneficial to the development of the child.

The convention outlines the following regional mechanisms that promote collaboration and support of the member nations aiming to create an environment that fully realises the rights of the child and provides for the well being of the child.

  • Create opportunities for sharing of information, experiences and skills
  • Facilitate human resource development through SAARC training programmes
  • Facilitate a speedy dismissal and transfer of children in conflict with law or in need of care and protection who are nationals of other SAARC countries to their country of legal residence for rehabilitation and reintegration
  • Fortify the relevant SAARC bodies dealing with child issues so as to ensure proper implementation of regional strategies and measures of child protection.
  • Establish a nutrition programme that aims at promoting knowledge and attaining higher levels of nutrition in children and women through awareness campaigns, education, training, food security and food distribution systems.

The convention encourages states to adopt these standards in accordance with their own constitution, laws and other measures. It outlines the need for coordination with other international bodies such as the UN and UN agencies as well as local NGOs to achieve the goals of the convention.

B. SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating the Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution

In 2002, during the SAARC decade of the rights of the child, the SAARC countries adopted the convention on preventing and combating the trafficking of women and children for prostitution. The convention defines a child as any person who has not completed 18 years of age. The purpose of the convention is to battle and prevent the trafficking of women and child, the rehabilitation and repatriation of victims of trafficking and to combat any prostitution networks, especially where SAARC countries are the origin, transit or destination country. It is the responsibility of the states to create a law or penal code criminalising any act of trafficking and putting into place penalties for violation of the law. As per the law any person who keeps, maintains, manages or knowingly finances, or partly finances, a place used for the trafficking or knowingly rents, or lets property for the purpose of trafficking or attempts or abets any of the above actions should be punishable by law. The judicial systems in each state need to be able to adjust verdicts and punishments when there are aggravating circumstances that make the offence particularly grave, such as involvement of organised crime groups, offence by public servants, victimization of children, offences committed in educational or custodial institutions, etc.

The convention calls the state to provide each other with the maximum amount of mutual assistance with regard to trials, investigations and legal proceedings. Requests of assistance can be made to any member state and shall be dealt with as promptly as possible. The offences described in the convention should be considered extraditable, meaning that a person accused of a crime under this convention shall be sent to his/her state of legal residence to be tried in that court. This convention hence acts as an extradition treaty among SAARC countries where one does not exist with regard to offences of trafficking of women or children.

States should take measures to prevent trafficking by training authority officers to put a stop to such actions, create regional task forces, set up mechanism to share information and interdict trafficking, supervise employment agencies, and create awareness through the use of media to help find sources of trafficking. It is also responsibility of the states to rehabilitation and repatriate victims of trafficking. States should provide for sending victims back to their country of origin, provide for care and maintenance of victims, recognise NGOs that set up protective homes and shelters for victims, and recognise NGOs that aim at prevention and intervention of trafficking.

Contact:
SAARC Secretariat,
Tridevi Marg,
P.O. Box 4222,
Kathmandu, Nepal.
Tel: (+977 1) 422 1785, 422 6350
Fax: (+977 1) 422 7033, 422 3991
E-Mail: saarc@saarc-sec.org

For more information visit the SAARC website

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