For a society that sets such store by children, we are remarkably careless about their welfare and safety. A report published by the Madadgar National Helpline makes truly shocking reading, and is a shameful indictment of the authorities and families in failing to protect children. The primary responsibility for the protection of all children falls on the family and not the state, and the family appears to be the nodal point for the abuse of children. In the first six months of 2012, there were 2,331 cases of reported violence against minors, incidents which happened in every province. Forced marriage, rape, sodomy, honour killing and torture all feature. As do cases where minors committed suicide, or were trafficked or fell victim to the odious practice of Vani. Minors are kidnapped for ransom or revenge and 367 have been murdered for a range of reasons.
Punjab leads nationally with 1,059 cases, 687 from Sindh, 382 from KP and 203 from Balochistan. Although these figures are in themselves shocking they represent the tip of a much larger iceberg of abuse. Children everywhere are being abused sexually and their civil rights as individuals trampled upon. Pernicious cultural practices ‘allow’ the abuse to continue unchecked and encourage rather than discourage appalling acts against children. There is little or no child protection legislation and only Punjab has government-funded child protection offices staffed by qualified but under-resourced social workers. Children are abused in their schools, the madrassas, the workplace and, primarily, in their homes by the very people on whom the primary duty to protect devolves – their parents. The Madadgar report concludes by saying that...’the authorities in Pakistan seem unwilling or unable to protect children from abuse and bring the perpetrators to justice, which promotes a culture of violence through the impunity granted to the criminals.’ Those 34 words are an indictment for a set of crimes for which we bear collective responsibility. This is not the work of some ‘hidden hand.’ It is the work of the hands of the people of Pakistan. Surely we can do better than this?