Right to food; a fundamental right

Our legal framework needs improvements to ensure the right to food as a fundamental human right.

With the passage of time more and more developing countries are on the track to a human-rights based approach with respect to the provision of key basic needs including food. Article 9 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan guarantees the citizens, right to life and the superior courts have dynamically interpreted right to “life” to include a number of natural and legal rights under the umbrella of Article 9, such as the right to a clean environment; the right to electricity, the right to free movement, the right to education with leisure facilities, the right to a livelihood etc. It’s all about is in conformity with other fundamental human rights Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948. The right to adequate food is defined as ‘’when every man, woman, and child, alone or in a community with others, has physical and economic access, at all times, to adequate food or means for its procurement’’ Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR, GENERAL COMMENT 12, 1999). The right to food conceptually includes the food availability, access to food, food safety, nutritional value and sustained supply. The food is primary human need and to have it, is pertinent for the enjoyment of all the other economic, social and legal rights of every citizen. Since ages, It is the state who makes possible the availability of enough food to be present at household or in the market with standard quality, adequate quantity and with required nutritional values.

Pakistan has signed various treaties and instruments by which an international pressure is created on the state to ensure fundamental rights to the citizens; the right to food is one of them. Pakistan signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1976 in 2004 and later ratified in 2008. This year in concluding observations the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights showed very serious concerns which brought not only the shame for a country known in the world as biggest producers of wheat, rice, milk, meat, fruit and vegetables; it is stated as; “The Committee is concerned that around 58 per cent of households are food insecure and nearly 30 per cent of the population is suffering from hunger. While welcoming the adoption of an infant and young child feeding strategy, it remains concerned at the insufficient implementation of the strategy owing to a lack of funding. It is particularly concerned about the fact that 44 per cent of children are stunted and 35 per cent of child deaths are related to malnutrition”.

The committee also recommended to take all steps necessary to address persisting acute hunger and malnutrition and, in particular, the critical nutritional needs of infants and children. It also recommends that the Pakistan as a State party allocate sufficient resources for the full implementation of the infant and young child feeding strategy and that it adopt a legislative framework protecting the right to adequate food and nutrition and a national action plan on food security and nutrition.

Pakistan signed the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Children in 1990, last year in 2016 after reviewing the 5th periodic report of our country, the UN committee on the rights of children in concluding observations, recommended to develop nutrition programmes to reduce problems such as stunted growth or other forms of malnutrition and implement an essential nutrition package in all health facilities, in particular targeting children affected by severe malnutrition.

The UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030 and goal 2 is particularly sets targets to end the hunger and malnutrition but the progress in last two years shows it will be a challenge for the state functionaries.

Our legal framework needs improvements to ensure the right to food as a fundamental human right. In India, through the intervention of Supreme Court during a famous case “People’s Union for Civil Liberties v/s Union of India & Others India” introduced right to food a part of its Fundamental Rights and have introduced the National Food Security Act 2013. This legislation has to ensure the provision of adequate food at affordable prices to the poor in country. Some of its provisions include provision of subsidized food grain, a Midday Meal Scheme to schoolchildren and wheat grain of five kilograms per person per month, covering both rural and urban areas. In Pakistan, Punjab food Authority Act.2011 was good legislative move to oversight the food quality and food standard and Sindh is also in process to ensure the same, but yet to provide a legal framework for the provision of food enriched with the nutrients in the areas identified with acute malnutrition, still the legislatures are not concerned to ensure the sustained idoized salt (as the bills are pending in houses) the fortified wheat/Atta, free one meal schemes in the schools, implementation on the laws for the promotion of breast feeding and most important is to ensure that knowledge of nutrition awareness raising through media, as Under The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance - 2002 have to ensure that 10% of total transmission time of relevant licensees is devoted to public interest issues.

Syed Miqdad Mehdi

Syed Miqdad Mehdi

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