Despite immense public outrage and some success in apprehending serial child abusers, the evil tendencies are yet not subsided. Contrary to common perception, sending Imran Ali to gallows, has failed to frighten the pedophilic brutes. Means, addressing deep rooted causes and systemic response is desired. With even more gravity of the crime, once again, Sohail Shehzad, has been captured from the same town of Kasure, for molesting and murdering at least 5 children in a row. ‘Himself coerced to sexuality, he picked up the habit from his naan bai ustad’, states the culprit.
Factoring-in media access and populace, the situation is not widely different in other parts of the country too. Suggested by Sahil’s ‘Cruel Statistics’ about 1304 children – 56 percent girls and 44 percent boys – were abused just in the first half of the year 2019. Strikingly, the ratio of victim boys is not much less than girls. A cumulative calculation by BBC puts the figure to 17,862 underage boys and girls falling prey to similar spites from 2013 to 2018.To another count about 22,528 children were physically manipulated from 2010 to 2017.All these sources break into 9-10 children assaulted every single day. To one of the Psychiatrists, Children Hospital Rawalpindi alone, treated around 1500 children in the last 15 years ie 150 children a year.
To our dismay, about 10 are abandoned and 5newborn babies are dumped each year; around 12 are given up; 7 are trafficked or sold; and every year approximately 45 children are chocked to death by their bearers themselves. Close to 70% of all heinous crimes against children are committed in rural expanses.
Street children also complain of abuses too like being slapped, kicked or pinched with lewd remarks by men in the market. Massage boys, clinking oil bottles in parks and bazars, often disclose acts of sodomy by customers, and sometimes providing the very service on charge.
Across time and space, a little less than half the abusers turn up to be acquaintances; neighbours, relatives, drivers, moulvis and policemen constitute a little over one-third, and disputing the dominant notion, strangers happen to be one-tenth of the abusers. One-fourth of the incidence stake place in the culprit’s place and roughly one in every seventh abuse within the child’s own home in the absence of parents. 11 to 15 happens to be the most vulnerable age followed by 6 to 10 both for boys and girls. Year round, almost half the cases are reported from Punjab; over one-third from Sindh while the rest from KPK, Baluchistan, GB, AJK and ICT.
Prescribed by global End of Childhood Index, a boy’s or girl’s childhood comes to an end, if s/he is sexually exploited, married earlier or enslaved. Ranking with Benin, Angola, Togo and Yemen, Pakistan stands at 149 out of 176 countries scoring 626 out of 1000 where ‘many children miss-out their childhood’ against the indicators mentioned above. India at 113 and Bangladesh at 127 perform better than Pakistan. Referring to Global Slavery Index, Pakistan scores worst for falling on 8 out of 10 scores.
Child rights lessons be incorporated in judicial and police training curriculum. Stigmatization, neglect and ill-treatment of child victims can be minimised through further socio-legal measures. In due course, if the system yields justice, victims’ families would stop making compromises
About 8.5 million children are enslaved for household chores, mostly girls. Every now and then, torture cases of domestic girls keep erupting.17 out of 1000 persons, many of them domestic maids work almost in slave-like conditions. Given the absence of systematic record, it has always been difficult to pinpoint children sold into domestic servitude, or prostitution in the garb of marriage. According to UNICEF, about three-fourth of all children endure one or another form of corporal thumping. Children with disabilities are three times more likely to all forms of abuses, including rape.
Depressing further, Pakistan is a route as well as destination for children (and women) trafficking to Asian, Middle Eastern and other countries. Though FIA’s efficiency has improved to curb down the crime but lack of segregated data – regarding age, gender and category – constrains uncovering the scale and purpose. To eliminate child trafficking, National Strategic Framework (2015-2020) and international standards to protection its victims be essentially adopted. Officials complicit to misconduct must face disciplinary actions and inter-agency coordination be enhanced.
An assortment of child protection services, such as Kashana for destitute and lost girls, Gehwara for abandoned babies and toddlers, Nigehban for lost and needy boys, Chaman for physically or mentally challenged children, ApnaGhar to shelter and educate disowned kids, Darulfalah for widowed and divorced women with children operate under the rubric of Social Welfare Department. There are 10-15 such units in each province. Employing funds from Pakistan Baitulmal, Sweet Homes exclusively care for orphan boys and girls. Serving under the Ministry of Interior, Child Protection and Welfare Bureau rescues and reunites unaccompanied or fleeing away children. SWD incessantly demands the latter to be placed under its seasoned supervision to avoid duplication. Not under discussion here, but scores of private charities and NGO-driven institutes also serve to the same end.
Although part of the State services are worth admiring but almost all of them are chronically short of funds and personnel, and are too few to properly address the demand. Manned by local philanthropists, most of them manage their development expenses with the support of their advisory committees. Many a goods, equipment and services are supplied by national and international NGOs. Working under the premises of provincial or federal Ombudsman, Child Complaint Offices, now known as Child Commissioners, receive written or telephonic complaints but rarely go beyond certain ceremonial responses. Child Welfare Commission in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains dysfunctional for long. Sindh Child Protection Authority is still in process.
Mandated to produce UNCRC report, assess and enlighten masses and the concerned departments about child rights, National Commission for Child Welfare and Development has limited capacity, outreach and outcome. National and Provincial Child Rights Commissions are planned but yet not installed. Most importantly, SWD needs to be taken seriously and child-specific resources be allocated in PSDP.
Nationwide awareness and sensitization campaign should be launched for parents, teachers and welfare officials. Where desired counseling, rehabilitation and re-integration system must also be instituted. Child rights lessons be incorporated in judicial and police training curriculum. Stigmatization, neglect and ill-treatment of child victims can be minimised through further socio-legal measures. In due course, if the system yields justice, victims’ families would stop making compromises.
Child protection MIS can help accessing segregated data for appropriate policy and protection measures. Commensurate to the gravity of concern, the parliament should play its role in strengthening cross-departmental coordination cum service-provision. Greater the awareness, fewer the chances of child abuse. By localizing SDGs, it is Pakistan’s responsibility to cull children’s servitude and other oppressive practices to actualize its Target 16.2.