Two, maybe three decades ago becoming a teacher – or any child related practitioner – was quite straightforward: one found an appealing enough school or city within which one would have liked to work, an application was then made, and if it was good enough, the applicant might have been invited to an interview, and, if s/he seemed like the kind of person the institution would be looking to hire, then that individual might be made an offer of employment. The only checks that were made would be to ascertain whether or not the applicant’s qualifications were up to scratch, and whether any previous employers or teachers thought them competent enough to deliver a teaching programme within a setting as arcane as a school. Fast forward to the present day and the scenario is, it is safe to say, radically different. Without a DBS check (DBS is the government’s Disclosure & Barring Service which was launched in 2002 as the Criminal Records Bureau) one cannot engage in any capacity with – or near – children or young people. What is the DBS and what does it do? Well, the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS), according to its website, enables employers to make safer recruitment decisions and prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups, including children. How does it do this? The DBS has access to both central and national criminal record databases, as well as the lists of individuals permanently barred from working with children and vulnerable adults. So, in contemporary Britain one has to first apply for a DBS check – which, latterly, takes a full four weeks before a certificate is received stating clearly what offences an individual has accumulated thus far or not – and then provide this certificate to their employer, who then, based on the information provided from the certificate, can choose to employ the individual, or not.

This is quite a complex system and would, at first glance, seem like part of a larger, cohesive, centralised system that works coherently with a number of institutions and individuals involved. But what has this to do with Pakistan? The point I try to convey in my article is that it doesn’t have anything to do with Pakistan – not even remotely – and that’s the problem. I am not of the opinion that we, as overseas Pakistanis, take all the things we see, hear, or learn about abroad, and try to apply them in Pakistan because, quite frankly, things aren’t that simple, and ideas aren’t so easily adapted – especially in a country as diverse and as complex as Pakistan. I mean, we don’t even have a centralised national criminal database in Pakistan, so a system as sophisticated as the UK’s DBS is a good few decades away – to be even remotely optimistic. However, there are several things that we can – and absolutely must – do. Now. After the brutal rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab Ansari in Kasur, it has become painfully clear that in order to ensure that each and every child and young person is safe to do as s/he pleases, we, in Pakistan, are in desperate need of some form of a children’s safeguarding system. A national, interconnected, centralised safeguarding system complete with efficient and competent oversight, akin to the current system running in the UK. Okay, I know for a fact that I might sound like an idealist propounding such ideas while there is so much to do in our country even at the most fundamental level. However, if we would like to safeguard our children, we now need to make a start – it is high time. A functional, national child safeguarding system is the need of the hour. How many Zainab Ansari’s will it take before the powers that be finally realise that they’re at fault, continually letting down the general public – their electorates – and have blood on their hands? At the end of the day, it’s the system that’s failed (and not, might I add, for the first time), and those that are running it are the greatest of all failures.

I’m not one to complain, even at the worst of times but, fortunately, what I like to do is to seek out solutions, as there’s nothing quite as pragmatic as having a solution-focused mind-set – especially when dealing with a potentially life and death situation. Which this is. This is precisely the sort of mind-set and attitude that all professionals in Pakistan involved in working with children and young people have to nurture and conform to – if we’re to make even minor progress in the years ahead. Making any progress in any field in Pakistan requires political clout, and it is in the political sphere that Pakistan’s child and youth practitioners have to make a concerted and organised stand. We need a competent, experienced, and articulate lobby that communicates what has to be done to those with the power to make things happen; and not just communicate; we need movers and shakers – especially women: mothers, sisters, wives, students, influencers – everybody has to be involved. A diverse segment of our society has to be involved in making this stand and must continually remain engaged until it makes a breach. But before all this we have to know what we’re fighting for, what we’re seeking to do for children, professionally. After all, it’s the child oriented professionals – teachers, paediatricians, et al. – to whom this appeal is being made. So a system is what we need: a model that best fits modern day Pakistani culture. As part of this system schools – private and public – must be central, but also crucial is the engagement of mosques and madrassahs as they’re responsible for engaging as many children as all schools combined. Again, seems like the rant of an idealist, but these are things that have to be done. What we’re talking of here, essentially, is about fomenting a culture change – a change in the culture of the way our institutions are run and the way in which the current lines of communication between our educational institutions and local and federal governmental institutions are shaped. Any system requires a diverse array of services to be effective and, more than that, must be cohesive in order to run at all. As things stand, we neither have effectiveness or cohesion in any quarter.