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September 1, 2019

Call for meaningful interactions between parents and their kids


September 1, 2019

Raheela, who hails from Ghotki, dreamed of becoming a doctor. But when she was 12 years old, she was about to be married to a man in his 60s, in exchange for his daughter marrying Raheela’s father.

Raheela’s neighbour — a community health worker (CHW) who had received training from the NGO Aahung, which aims to improve sexual and reproductive health — found out about the impending marriage. She counselled Raheela, equipped her with communication skills so she could employ them to discuss her situation with her parents.

Raheela negotiated her case with the help of the CHW by making her family aware of the health consequences she might have to endure if she were to get married and become pregnant too early.

Her mother, who was also a child bride, helped Raheela escape the situation and sent her to Khairpur to live with the latter’s sister and get an education. Today Raheela is a CHW and helps young girls in her neighbouring community realise their true potential.

Aahung Executive Director Sheena Hadi shared this story at the Stop Child Abuse Conference, which was organised by Catwalk Cares, the CSR Division of Catwalk Event Management & Productions, on Saturday.

Citing the NGO Girls Not Brides’ estimates, Sheena said that 21 per cent of the girls are married off by the age of 18, which is the sixth highest rate in the world.

She said the driving factors of such child marriages are honour codes and customary practices, gender discrimination, family honour, lack of education and lack of economic security. Sindh is the only Pakistani province to have passed a law to set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, she added.

Girls’ education

Writer and former federal information minister Javed Jabbar said that millions of girls are forced to sit at home once they pass the fifth grade.

He said that in Pakistan’s 70-year history, the country’s primary enrolment, however, has been increasing. “Girls’ education worldwide and in Pakistan has increased but, of course, that is not enough. There is so much to be done.”

He added that at the SOS Children’s Villages Pakistan, an NGO, they do not use the word “orphans” for children without parents but “disadvantaged children”. “We have two daughters who witnessed the murder of their mother at the hands of their own father. That kind of trauma is a very difficult burden for a child,” said the ex-minister.

“It’s also a kind of an abuse, because this has left a stain on the minds of these two daughters. It will be there forever,” he said. Through education, trainings and counselling these stains can be addressed, he added.

Jabbar, who also co-chaired the Planning Committee of the first United Nations World Summit for Children, shared a reason with the audience for Pakistan to take pride.

He recalled that while he was serving in the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s first cabinet, she asked him to be her personal representative to help organise the first world summit for children.

He said Pakistan was honoured because Benazir was elected one of the two co-chairs of the world summit, which was to be held in September 1990. “We worked to bring together 72 heads of state for the first time.”

He added that Pakistan organised the summit but Benazir was not able to co-preside the event because her government was toppled in August 1990. “The role of Pakistan, however, was acknowledged.”

Jabbar said that UNICEF head James Grant wrote to him to say that because of Pakistan’s leadership, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child became the fastest-ever convention adopted in the UN’s history.

Speaking about the convention, he said that it is the first document that was accepted by all the nations irrespective of jurisdictional, religious or cultural boundary.

The former minister also spoke about non-violent abuse, which, he said, is invisible and intangible, as it cannot be measured or calculated. “Even without violence, we can and we do abuse children.” He said that the prime responsibility lay with the parents. Even within the ambit of parental love, there can be cruelty, repression, suppression or imposition, he added.

Multiple interventions

Singer and humanitarian Shehzad Roy said that awareness regarding child abuse has become a part of the curriculum in Sindh and Balochistan. “We need multiple interventions when we talk about child abuse,” he said, adding that there is this mindset that needs to be changed.

Roy stressed a strong child protection unit, under which the police and the health, education and social welfare departments should work. “In Pakistan this child protection unit is dead.”

He said that when child abuse occurs in the school or at home, it is less a law and order issue and more a societal one, which is why the social welfare department has to step forward. Unfortunately, it does not happen this way in the country, he added.

The singer said that until 2012, Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code allowed a teacher to hit a child in good faith until the minor bled. This law was later challenged, and in 2013 it was changed by the National Assembly, for whose advocacy, he said, the Geo group played a very important role.

Regarding parents hitting their children and being encouraged, he said that after a child is born their parents beat them, in school their teachers hit them and when they go out to work the SHO beat them up.

“This hitting culture in our society has extended to a level that the idea has taken root in our minds that issues can only be resolved through violence and beating.” The humanitarian said that one out of every five people in the country have experienced some form of sexual abuse. He said they need to keep the debate on child violence alive.

During the panel discussion, Roy shed light on the trauma in the wake of child abuse. He said that in school, children are taught how to react if confronted with any kind of abuse, like informing their parents, siblings or teachers. “If the father does it, who would the child tell it to?”

He asked what would happen after a child informs their teacher or a counsellor about the abuse, saying that usually the family members get involved, families break apart or the child is married off. “It’s a very complicated issue,” he said, adding that one thing that can be done is social re-engineering, as law-making and its implementation alone cannot do anything.

‘Know your children’

Dr Manizeh Bano, executive director of NGO Sahil, spoke about child sex abuse and how necessary it is for the parents to know their children. She stressed meaningful interactions between the parents and their kids. She said parents should know where their children go and what friends they have.

Referring to recent cases, she said adolescents have been found to be involved in child sex abuse. Speaking about the profile of an abuser, she said that it is not necessary that he has a big moustache.

Citing foreign researches, she said abusers characteristically are anti-social and angry, lack self-confidence, are very impulsive, cannot empathise, have low self-esteem, exhibit deviant sexual behaviour or are drug users.

Dr Manizeh said the abuser always has power over their victims, of position, age, physical strength or family strength. She said children should be taught not to accept gifts from others and they must not be allowed to go anywhere with anyone without asking the family.

Child rights activist Rana Asif, actor and Special Olympics Pakistan ambassador Sarwat Gilani, actor and social activist Sheheryar Munawar, actor and social activist Adnan Malik, actor and Human Development Foundation ambassador Ahsan Khan, humanitarian Shaniera Akram, director and actor Angeline Malik, psychiatrist Fawad Suleman, barrister and human rights lawyer Hassaan Niazi and Catwalk CEO Frieha Altaf also spoke on the occasion.