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January 19, 2018
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Safety denied

Opinion

January 19, 2018

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We are shocked, angry and emotional at the brutal rape and murder of 7–year-old Zainab in Kasur. But it took one year and 12 mutilated bodies of young girls and boys for our media, government and state institutions to take notice of the horrific and heinous crimes that have been taking place against children.

We rightly expressed our anger and emotions through protests, social media posts and statements against the brutality, but with the passage of time, everyone will gradually forget about the gruesome incident. However, my real concern is that we are going to miss an opportunity to make child abuse, child labour and the general plight of children in our society, a part of the national discourse.

Such heart wrenching incidents of abuse and violence against children are taking place across the country. But the response of our governments and ruling classes clearly indicates that they have failed to realise the magnitude and severity of the situation and are still in a state of denial.

Child sexual abuse is a real problem in our society. How can one forget the nearly 250 children, mostly less than 14 years of age, forced to have sex and videotaped in Kasur by a gang of paedophiles exposed in 2015. And the rape and murder of 100 children in Lahore by a serial killer named Javed Iqbal in 2001. These cases are only the tip of the ice berg of the horrific accounts of child abuse in Pakistan.

The economic and social structures, centuries-old traditions discriminate against women and girls, causing long-term harm to their maternal health, resulting in low female literacy rates and affecting their decision-making ability. Moreover, poverty has helped create a criminal divide in society whereby the plight of poor children goes almost unnoticed.

There is no end to the predicament of child domestic workers, continuously sold, exploited, sexually abused, tortured and even killed. At least one million children are working as domestic aides in homes of the educated and well off middle and upper middle classes. If one wants to judge our sensitivity towards children of poor families, one should just see the number of educated middle class and upper middle class families who have employed young girls and boys as domestic servants. The employers include lawyers, journalists, bureaucrats, judges, religious leaders, politicians, IT specialists and traders. The sections of society these people belong to are well aware of the laws and Islamic teachings but still employ them.

The reason for this is simple; we are not sensitive and do not care about the wellbeing and protection of children. The other reason is the class arrogance of our middle and upper classes. The continuous disturbing reports of torture and murder of child domestic workers indicates towards the moral decay of our society and the state. Both have allowed the powerful class to brutally torture and murder children because they belong to poor, marginalised and working class families.

Whenever we go out to eat at restaurants, we see children act as baby sitters for other children who are roughly their own age. Those children get to sit and eat at the table with their parents, while the child-helper stands or sits aside and watches them. Is that not cruelty? The reason is the sense of ownership the families feel they have over the other child who belongs to a vulnerable and weaker segment of society. It is from this feudal mindset and psychological manipulation that physical and sexual abuse stem.

It is often said that statistics don’t paint a clear picture and can be twisted either way. But figures regarding the plight of children provide a crystal clear picture of the horrific conditions faced by the children of the poorer sections of society. If we spare some time and read a couple of reports we will be in a constant state of shock and disbelief.

According to a Unicef report, nearly 70 percent children in Pakistan experience physical and psychological abuse (corporal punishment) at home, school, madressah, childcare centres as well as at workplaces, jails, detention centres and on the streets.

Every day 11 children fall prey to sex predators and paedophiles nationally. Child abuse is increasing at an alarming pace but there is neither a policy nor a mechanism to address this. Nor is our governing elite serious enough to want to take it up.

Punjab has the highest incidence of child sexual abuse which is a staggering 68percent, followed by Sindh (19percent), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ( five percent) and Balochistan (three percent). The most vulnerable age group was found to be 16-18 year olds; they accounted for 22 percent of the total victims, whereas a total of 16 percent were between the ages of 6-10.

Unicef in its report, the State of the World’s Children 2014, claims that around 35 percent children in Pakistan under the age of five are underweight, over 50 percent suffer from stunted growth and around nine percent from emaciation. Another study on education by Alif Ailaan titled ‘25 Million Broken Promises’ states that, “currently 25.02 million boys and girls between the ages of five and 16 are not in school.”

Pakistan has the highest school exclusion rate; 51 percent for pre-school age children, 34.4 percent for primary school-age children, while 42 percent of its population aged over 10 years remains illiterate.

Pakistan ranks second with the most out-of-school children in the world. It is estimated that 23 percent of the rural and 7 percent of urban children are not enrolled in any form of schooling. We are not ready to accept the basic fact that our state‘s economic, social and class structure needs to be changed. This system and structure is not providing for the poor, the working class and the marginalised sections of the society and it is children who are the most exploited and repressed among them.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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