By Mashal Sahir
There is an urgent need to protect our children from such acts of violence before it is too late. What we read in the newspapers are not just tales; they are actual accounts of children who have been subjected to these forms of violence.
Children are the future of the world. Therefore, we must ensure the security of children, both physically and psychologically, for a better future. There have been advances in some parts of the world regarding the security of children; however, many serious problems still remain. One of the most severe problems being faced currently is violence against children, especially in Pakistan. The UN study on Violence Against Children, 2006, defines violence as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a child, by an individual or group, that either results or is likely to result in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity.
In Pakistan, the growing incidence of violence against children proves that children are not safe in their homes, schools, the streets, or at their workplace and are unable to trust the individuals they look up to for security. Many forms of violence exist in Pakistan, which are not even recognised as abusive.
One of the most typical forms of violence found in Pakistan are the types of violence committed against children for so long, they have become a part of the culture. Such traditional practices in Pakistan include, among others, early marriage, female infanticide, trade of women and honour killings. According to the Aurat Foundation: there were 604 cases of honour killings reported in Pakistan during the year. In the outskirts of Islamabad, in the village of Gangal, a man killed his sister and two nieces because one of them had left home with a young man. These kinds of acts of violence remain prevalent in Pakistan due to the gaps in law and implementation. The Child Marriage Restraint Act set the minimum age for marriage at 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys. However, as is obvious from the prevailing rate of these criminal acts, this law was never implemented.
Another form of violence found commonly in Pakistan is corporal punishment, which refers not only to physical punishment, but also degrading a child. In a UNICEF study of corporal punishment with over 3,500 children, not a single child reported never having received corporal punishment at home or in school. Once again, this is due to the gaps in law and implementation. Corporal punishment exists despite the notification of a ban on corporal punishment in schools by the Pakistan Penal Code (Section 89).
Another form of violence in Pakistan is the kidnapping and killing of children. The kidnapping, sexual abuse and murder of three-year old Sana in Karachi by two policemen was one of the most horrific crimes in Pakistan. In Arifwala, two people burnt a six-month-old boy alive over a monetary dispute involving Rs.5000 that his father owed to them. These crimes reflect the negligence of lawmakers and public protectors as can be seen in the recent Sialkot killings where an angry mob beat two minor boys to death in front of the police, who did not bother to intervene.Another issue of concern in Pakistan is physical violence against housemaids, usually under the age of 18. A 14 year old girl was serving as a maid in the house of Mr Faheem Cheema, a Wing Commander (PAF), in Islamabad. His wife, who suspected her of stealing some gold ornaments, beat the child so severely that the girl is now disabled and can’t walk properly. The gaps in law and implementation are visible here again, since this atrocious crime took place even though the child labour law clearly states that a child cannot be employed before the age of 15.
Another major problem is the trafficking of children. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009: “Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation.” Under international law, child trafficking is a crime involving the movement of children for the purpose of their exploitation. However, no law is ever implemented in Pakistan as is clear from the above report. Moreover, our national law does not cover internal trafficking.There is an urgent need to protect our children from such acts of violence before it is too late. What we read in the newspapers are not just tales; they are actual accounts of children who have been subjected to these forms of violence. If it can happen to them, it can happen to our children as well. We can’t just sit quietly and watch our children die an unnatural and unjust death every day. SPARC, an independent organisation, has launched an awareness campaign against child marriage and proposed a draft bill for raising the minimum age to 18 years for girls and increasing the punishment for marrying a child. It also proposed a bill against corporal punishment, banning all such punishments in educational institutions. Furthermore, the Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009 has recommended that Pakistan significantly increase law enforcement activities, including adequate criminal punishment for forced child labour and child trafficking. Judging the current scenario, what is required now is to evolve a mechanism for implementing and monitoring international treaties and coordinating a system, without which the ratification process will also be difficult. Another weapon in the fight against child abuse is the media. The media should spread awareness regarding child rights. It is absolutely necessary now to alert the government, civil society and concerned citizens to play a more active and significant role in the promotion, respect and appreciation of the rights of children to prevent the abuse of children. An educated and healthy population is, without doubt, the best path to prosperity.
The writer is a poet and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Daily Times, Pakistan