One gets overcome in equal measure by shame and sorrow to know about the rising child abuse cases in the ‘Rising Pakistan’. A total of 2322 child abuse cases were reported in the country during the first half of the current year registering 32 percent increase in the corresponding period during 2017 that witnessed 1764 such cases. In 2016 the number of reported child abuse cases stood at a staggering 4,139.
The shocking figures revealed in a survey conducted by a non-governmental organization Sahil suggest that twelve children are sexually abused every day in Pakistan. In 57 cases the children were killed after being sexually abused.
The statistical trends show that 65 percent cases were reported from Punjab, 25 percent from Sind, 3 percent each from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad and 2 percent from Baluchistan.
The eight years old Zainab from Kasur may have dreamed of becoming a rising star in her rising Pakistan. But the budding kid was even denied the right to live like her 11 fellows from the same neighbourhood. The brutal killings of the minor along with her 11 more fellows before being sexually assaulted had a clear message for the teeming millions kids how well protected they were in their rising Pakistan?
A report by the Ministry of Human Rights reads that a whopping 17,862 cases of child abuse have been reported in the country since 2013. But, ironically, only in 112 cases were the accused convicted. Among these, death sentences were handed down in only 25 cases, while 11 convicts were awarded life imprisonments.
Story of the child miseries does not end here. Infant Mortality rate stands at 76/1000 while maternal mortality rate is 78/100000.
A latest report by the UNICEF says Pakistan is the riskiest place for newborns as measured by its infant mortality rate. The report notes that for every 1,000 babies born in Pakistan in 2016, 46 died before the end of their first month – a staggering 1 in 22.
A study conducted by the National Nutrition Survey (NNS 2011) reveal that 40 percent of the children are malnourished with 49 percent of the women folk iron deficient in the country. There is little doubt that the product of malnourished lactating women should obviously be a low birth weight children suffering from various inborn diseases – mentally handicapped, disabled and down syndrome.
According to Pakistan Demographic Survey only 38 per cent of the children across the country have been fully immunized against the serious diseases. The high percentage of malnourishment coupled with low immunization and ignorance proves more dangerous when poverty comes across. Forty percent of the people are living below the poverty line with their income less than two dollars a day.
Media reports suggest 397 children have died of malnutrition and viral infections during the first half of the current year in Thar.
Spread over an area of 2200 square kilometer, the vast desert of Thar, is home to some 1.4 million people where drought usually claims hundreds of people every year. More shocking, however the fact that these deaths are occurring in 21st century’s modern Pakistan.
Medical experts say lack of safe drinking water; poor diet coupled with poverty, low hygiene standards and ignorance all contributes to the problem. The budding kids at Thar are waiting for a messiah. They are calling us for help but their voices can hardly pass through the vast deserts of Thar to reach the high-rise buildings in Islamabad.
Experts believe that newborn survival is closely linked to a country’s income level. A baby born in Pakistan is 50 times more likely to die during the first month than a baby born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore – said to be the safest countries to be born in.
The deteriorating situation of our national health can be gauged from the fact that only 0.7 percent of the total GDP is allocated to maintain the health of over 200 million Pakistanis, against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standard of between 4-5 percent of the GDP.
On education front, the situation is even worse. The teenager Malala Yousufzai was shot by armed men in Swat valley back in 2012 when she was a school going kid. The Nobel peace prize laureate came back home to see a different Pakistan she left before her departure to UK some five years back. The iconic Malala who runs a worldwide campaign for promoting girls education would have been shocked to see the over 25 million children of her country still out of schools.
Pakistan is a party to various international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Pornography that calls for proper legislation on the issue in accordance with these treaties but still no luck.
There is a list of reasons for the failure to legislate that include lack of a policy document, a plan of action, a proper mechanism and strategies on the implementation front.
This whole situation needs an overhauling through a life cycle approach – a long term, well defined, well designed and well thought out agenda and program. This program should have three components a) mass education b) advocacy and c) capacity building of the national health managers.
Those keeping an eye on child rights issues believe there is a dire need for widespread awareness of child-related laws among the stakeholders as well as enforcers of the criminal justice system – the police, judiciary and lawyers.
There is a need to create awareness of how to protect oneself from sexual abuse. This should be part of the school curriculum in a culturally sensitive manner. Culturally and religiously appropriate material on the subject matter could be produced. To that end, engaging with the religious clergy is of immense importance. An enhanced role for media is recommended. Media can play a vital role in fostering coordination with civil society and the Government for creating widespread awareness. Youth and children-focused media channels are one of the important tools to educate on the subject matter. The government’s initiative to start a kid oriented television channel is a welcome move.
The writer is a freelance journalist.