On New Year’s Eve, 2019, a three-year-old girl Faryal was raped and left in a critical condition to die in extreme cold weather in Havelian, Abbottabad. This unfortunate incident was followed by another killing and rape of eight-year-old girl Minahil, in Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Generally, in Pakistan, children are taught to be submissive and expected to tolerate violence. The relationship between children and elders or adults is not based on mutual trust and affection but suppressive and forceful obedience. Violence against children is often considered normal and acceptable within the family, schools, madrassas and different social spheres in Pakistan.

Pakistani society is plagued by the rampant child abuse; more than 12 children were abused every day in the first six months (January to June) of 2018, which has shown a 32pc increase in child abuse cases compared to the first half of 2017, as per statistics (cruel numbers) revealed by Sahil, a non-governmental organization. The data further showed that 2,322 children were abused from January to June, 2018 compared to the 1,764 child abuse cases reported in the first six months of 2017 from all over Pakistan.

Cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) of boys had increased by 47pc whereas cases of girls’ sexual abuse had increased by 22pc in 2018 as compared to 2017. Children between 6 and 15 are the most vulnerable age group to sexual abuse and exploitation in Pakistan.   

According to a BBC Urdu report, the statistics presented in the National Assembly in February, 2018 revealed that in the last five years, as many as 17,862, cases of sexual abuse were reported from across the country, the gender breakdown of the statistics highlighted that 10,620 girls and 7,242 boys were sexually abused in the last five years under review.

Last year in January, 2018 Zainab, a six-year-old child was raped and brutally murdered in Kasur, Punjab which sparked outrage and protests across the whole country. In 2015, “the largest-ever child abuse scandal” surfaced in Kasur Punjab where more than 280 children were forcefully sexually abused and more than 400 child-sexual abuse recordings were unearthed which were sold in the village market at a low price of Rs50. The busted child-pornography ring was allegedly said to have been supported by the PML-N MPA Malik Ahmad and protected by the local police. 

Nonetheless, Pakistan being signatory to the United Nation Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and related protocols and conventions, Pakistan is one of the developing countries which has a very poor record on child violence preventive measures and facilities for the protection of children.

“Child Protection” is a set of strategies and services designed by government to protect children and youth who are under the age of 18 and support family stability.  The government runs services and measures include “investigation of suspected child abuse , adoption services, and foster care services, child protective services and services intended to supporting at-risk families”. Whereas,  the UNICEF employs the term “child protection’’ to refer to “preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children–including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labor and harmful traditional practices”.  

There are certain articles enshrined in the Pakistan’s Constitution which specially addresses issues of children, nonetheless, of the fact that Constitution of Pakistan does not distinguish between adults and children. For Instance, Article 11 (3) prohibits slavery and forced labor and employment of children under the age of 14. Moreover, Article 25 (A) makes it free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of 5 and 16 years. In addition, Article 25 (3) and Article 26 (3) facilitate and allow the state to derive equity based approach and provisions for women and children. There are a good number of other legal provisions among which some of them include; Child Protection (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2009, National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill, 2009 and The Charter on the Child Rights Bill, 2009.

Pakistan is a federation of four major provinces, which share different traditional and cultural values and demographics. However, after the 18th amendment to the constitution in 2010, child protection legislation is now a provincial subject and different laws and bills have been passed from the different provincial assemblies which aim to protect children.

An academic research tells us that Pakistan has failed to form a uniform legislative framework and system for the protection of the children. Many legal experts have also pointed out the impractical nature of those laws and bills that have been passed and placed in order to protect children from sexual abuse and different forms of exploitation. In addition, a very tiny percentage and negligible amount of funds is allocated in both federal and provincial budgets for children specific programs and activities.

According to Child Rights Movement (CRM) report, federal government could only allocate 1.7% on education and 0.247 on health of the total budget, in the FY 2016-17. The other factors which further exacerbate the situation related to child protection include poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, terrorism, growing corrupt judicial and political system and lack of access to health and education.  

To address the rampant child abuse , the government should devise strong legislative frameworks, child specific programs and policies and strongly enforce and implement them. In addition, to engage the people, community and civil society, government should adopt a multi-stakeholder approach and gross level frameworks and strategies. Communities and families can play a vital role in strengthening the child protection system. Families and parents should report child abuse , support, protect, educate, and empower their children by saying no to unwanted touch, identify potential harms and child abuse so that we can tackle this menace in our society.