Twelve–year–old Tehmina and her elder sister left Rahimyar Khan to work as domestic workers in Islamabad. On July 30 this year when she asked for salary to celebrate Eid at home, her ‘educated’ employers instead beat up Tehmina and threw her over the terrace breaking her backbone. Tehmina will never walk again.
Tehmina’s sister, Samina, recounting the horrible incident, said, “I sat with my sister in the porch from about 10am to 2pm, when the employer’s sister came and took us to the hospital, but by then the harm had been done. Now my sister is bedridden, unable to move.” To save themselves from trial and punishment, the employers made an out of court settlement.
Ten years back, the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) initiated the day for preventing child abuse, observed every year on November 20. Almost one million children are abused and neglected around the world – often by a family member – every year.
In Pakistan 2010 has been harsh and violent for children working in homes of the moneyed and the educated.
In one case a child worker was forced to sit on a hot frying pan. Shahzad, 13, working in a doctor’s house in Gujranwala, was found strangulated on the rooftop. In February, young Yasmeen died after allegedly burnt by her employers. In one of the cases, the employer was the ex-president of Lahore bar. Tragically none of the culprits were caught or convicted, while the lives of poor and underprivileged children were lost or pushed into more misery and suffering.
Children are abused in homes by parents or extended family members, forcing them to escape and make streets their home.
Abusive and violent school environment compels large number of children to drop out. Many of them join the ever growing child labourers or else fall into the hands of wily adults who force them into prostitution and drugs. And when such children are caught, they have no recourse to legal help from the state, sending them into wilderness of violence and abuse.
“Unfortunately violence against children is common in Pakistan in all its forms including physical, sexual and psychological,” says Arshad Mahmood, executive director of Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Children (SPARC). “Corporal punishment is deeply entrenched in social and cultural values. We have failed as a state and as a society to curb corporal punishment.” He regretted that successive governments have failed to introduce any national policy on child protection.
With growing number of children born in poverty and deprivation, more are available for abuse and exploitation, but media’s increased attention on such incidents has helped organisations working on child right to present facts and figures to demand action. But these voices need to turn themselves into a movement against child abuse as currently life is too bleak for underprivileged children.
Pakistan has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that clearly states that every child matters, and has inherent rights to development, survival, protection and participation and the state is duty bound to fulfill these obligations.
Unfortunately Pakistan has done little or nothing for the well being of children. There are numerous laws safeguarding children’s interest but poor or no implementation has left them inactive.