A donkey in Karachi was tortured by crowd of political activists who subsequently died. It was a sad reflection on the soul of a society when its greatest targets for causing pain and misery are those who cannot fight back, who have no voice. A sadistic mob inflicted unprecedented brutality on a mute, innocent animal but no one was punished because of poor law enforcement.

In many communities, animals are sometimes the sole breadwinners of a family. According to a 2015 Brooke’s report, there are 112 million working donkeys, horses and mules in developing countries supporting 600m people. In Pakistan, these ‘invisible workers’ are not only overburdened and underfed, they are also brutally maltreated. There are very few animal hospitals, vaccination is erratic and hygiene very poor. Many work animals die prematurely of sickness, malnourishment, accidents, neglect and torture.

In 2009, the Treaty of Lisbon placed animal welfare on an equal footing with other key aspirations of the EU such as gender equality, social protection, human health, and sustainable development.

Much progressive animal-centred legislation has been enacted in recent years that goes beyond traditional animal protection, recognising the sentience of animals as a right, and combining the duty of kindness by citizens with the state’s obligation to enforce laws relating to animal welfare.

Pakistan is a member of the World Organisation on Animal Health, alternatively called the OIE — Office International des Epizooties. Member states have to ensure five basic freedoms for animals:

  • freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition,
  • freedom from fear and distress,
  • freedom from physical and thermal discomfort,
  • freedom from pain, injury and disease, and
  • freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour relevant to the animal’s own kind.

Criteria for animal welfare are also laid down, including sufficient diet, water, comfort, space, hygiene, medical treatment, painless surgical procedures, and mental and emotional security.

Animal rights cut across ethical, social, cultural and religious norms. Animal legislation, therefore, has to be embedded in an ethical framework to not only reduce the propensity for cruelty in violent and aggressive societies, but also to promote civilised values that include kindness, care and respect for animals. One of the most comprehensive acts for animal welfare was passed by the Tanzanian parliament in 2008.

In Pakistan, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is an old law enacted in 1890 which needs to be replaced by fresh legislation recognising animals as sentient beings with intrinsic values needing protection and care. Definitions in the legislation should include all major categories of animals and their roles, such as companion pets, therapy dogs, farm animals including fowl, transport animals, zoos, aquaria and wildlife animals, those used for research and testing, and animals in sports.

The act should include standards of health and breeding systems eg fish farming, veterinary services, vaccinations and rabies protocols, stray dogs’ and cats’ management, and appropriate care and hygiene of animals for slaughter.

The government must also formulate a national policy on animal protection and welfare in consultation with farmers, transporters, professionals from the departments of agriculture, environment protection and wildlife, and veterinary hospitals and universities so that specific issues are identified, addressed and integrated into cross-sectoral policies for health, environment, livestock management and animal husbandry, poverty reduction and livelihoods.

For effective implementation of policies and laws, new institutional structures are needed such as an animal welfare advisory council, a scientific experiments oversight council, and an animal health standards authority. A system of licences for pets and breeding farm and aquatic animals is needed, pounds and infirmaries should be set up and transportation of animals made comfortable.

Trained officers including animal health inspectors must be appointed. The OIE could provide expertise and capacity-building support to the government for collection and dissemination of good practices.

The government and civil society should focus on animal welfare in educational institutes, inform functionaries including the police about animal rights, encourage media exposure, and celebrate International Animal Rights Day, World Animal Day, and World Wildlife Day to create awareness.

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