Government urgently needs to rethink and redirect UK aid to Pakistan to make sure it helps the women, girls and religious minorities who need it most.
That’s the blunt message Prof Javaid Rehman gave MPs in the House of Commons International Development Committee.
Speaking at its inquiry into UK aid to Pakistan, the human rights lawyer painted a grim picture of how the nation treats its women, girls and religious minorities.
“There has been a systematic and systemic erosion of the rights of minorities and the right to freedom of religion.
“Forced conversions and forced marriages of girls is a very serious concern. Very young girls from minority faiths – Christians and Hindus primarily are forcibly converted, abducted and then married.”
Prof Rehman went on to catalogue his key concerns including targeted killings, deliberate efforts to keep national human rights institutions dysfunctional, tactics to repress human rights and civil society organisations, hate speech, misuse and overuse of blasphemy laws, a biased education curriculum and restricted rights to worship, with places of worship have been destroyed.
The committee launched an inquiry into UK aid to Pakistan earlier this year to ask whether UK aid spending in the country is focused enough on reaching communities most in need, making a difference and giving value for money.
Figures on the Committee’s website are grim. Almost a third of Pakistan’s population lives in poverty (more than 60 million), with women hit hardest; 22.6 million children do not go to school and half the population, including two thirds of women, can’t read or write, it says. One in 11 children die before their fifth birthday and 9,700 women a year die in childbirth.
‘Considerable scandals of UK aid being misspent’ and badly run practices mean the most in need are not receiving it, Prof Rehman said, calling for an urgent rethink. With Pakistan’s population forecast to grow by 40 million in the next 15 years, he said aid must be channelled into population planning and environmental protection. Preventing child marriages must be a focus along with added UK pressure to force Pakistan to comply with international human rights laws ensuring the rights of girls and women and the right to freedom of religion or belief.
“We cannot give aid to a country that intentionally violates the rights of women and religious minorities. We cannot give aid for the sake of it. This money is valuable and we have to spend it on the right purposes,” Prof Rehman urged MPs.
“The government need a robust mechanism to track and audit future aid programmes because in my mind, aid is not being well spent.”
It comes after Boris Johnson at the weekend was said to be considering a U-turn on a move last month to ban MPs from voting on a planned UK aid spending cut. A group of about 50 Tory MPs oppose the planned reduction of the 0.7 per cent of national income, which is legally enshrined in law. They claim the cut could lead to lives being lost.
Prof Rehman spoke alongside Professor Mariz Tadros, Director Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development. MPs Sarah Champion, Theo Clarke, Pauline Latham, Chris Law, Navendu Mishra, Mr Virendra Sharma formed the panel.
Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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