Words fail us when sketching the picture of the life of an ordinary child in Pakistan. We do not want to think about why the 14 year old boy, instead of spending his afternoons frolicking in the lush fields of his village has to walk back every night from the dhaba he works at-tightly clutching the money he has earned to give to his mother. We also look away from the plight of the girl, who instead of sitting in a classroom, surrounded by her friends and books has to now live with a man thrice her age, just because her father could not pay off a debt. Children are our future. However, in Pakistan their journey is one that haunts our national conscience.

From the very moment of conception, the fetus inside the mother grows in a dangerously unhealthy environment. The abysmal state of maternal healthcare in Pakistan is only the tip of the iceberg. The statistics of children being alive at the beginning of labour and dying for entirely preventable reasons during the next few hours should be shocking for us. But they are not. These children are born into the hands of leaders that lack either the capacity or the political will, and mostly both, to deal with the dearth of female doctors in rural communities, poor medical infrastructure in public hospitals, causing hundreds of thousands of stillbirths all over the country. For those who do stay alive the fight for life continues. According to data for the year 2012 from the UN and the World Bank, the average infant mortality rate, one that also unfortunately happens to be one of the highest in the world, was at 86 children dying before the age of 5 per 1000 childbirths. Another heartbreaking study shows that, India and Pakistan alone account for 88 percent of newborn deaths and 82 percent of stillbirths in the region. It makes one think if we actually like this absurd tradition of topping all the wrong statistical charts, every now and then.

Even at the time when a newborn should be registered, many from rural areas resist as they are yet to understand the importance of having a national identity card (NIC). According to Imaan Mazari-Hazir, a Research Associate at the Research Society of International Law, leading a team of lawyers and activists into drafting and lobbying for federal and provincial level Acts of Parliament that effectively tackle the issue of child registration, this problem is far from being unraveled. Mazari states: “While Pakistan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), it has yet to fully incorporate the obligations it has undertaken into its domestic law. Without implementing legislation, enforcement will continue to be weak, if at all existent.

In Pakistan thousands of children remain unregistered, in contravention of the obligation under Article 24(2) that stipulates ‘every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have a name’. Lacking registration and monitoring in this regard has further worsened the state of affairs as far as child protection is concerned.” Without registration, it is unlikely that the masses will ever get a sense of their basic civil and political rights and how to exercise them.

On the horrid day of August 8, 2015, a frightening and horrifying news story surfaced. The details of the sexual abuse scandal are nerve wrecking and shameful. And amongst all the wordiness of debates, the real victims remain a forgotten cause. We call it ‘scandal’, as if it was in some way the fault of the children. It implicated citizens, security officials and local chieftains alike for the injustices inflicted against 280 victims and their families. The culture of silence and tacit acquiescence in the name of custom must give way to awareness programs that educate children, families, teachers and communities about the preventive and supervisory measures needed to counter this perverse threat to the wellbeing of our young boys and girls.

Tehmina Shahid, an educationist from Lahore seeking to shed light of awareness surrounding this taboo, confirms the nightmare of child right activists around the world. She said that the recent Kasur case, though truly appalling, is not particularly shocking. Child abuse is not only an epidemic, but an accepted norm in major areas of the country, disguised in the name of ‘honor’ and ‘custom’. Additionally, unclear definitions of basic terms such as ‘child’ and ‘child abuse’ handicap the society in general and give rise to bigger, much more severe problems.’

Then commences the schooling stage, one that is a luxury for a vast segment of our population who never get to benefit from the physical, intellectual and emotional development that comes from attending a primary, middle or a high school. According to a report by Alif Ailaan, in Pakistan approximately 25.02 million children are out of school. Why is that allowed to happen when it is stated in vivid and unequivocal terms in Article 25-A of our Constitution, the supreme law of our land, that every child from the age of five to sixteen years has a fundamental right to free education? For what reason then should successive governments not be held accountable for their failure to live up to words that are binding upon institutions and subjects of the State alike.

In an interview, Professor Ali Khan, Dean of School of Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, shared insights from his work with the International Labour Organisation and the World Bank: “Children can be found in construction sites, tanneries, agriculture, quarries, domestic work, auto-repair, services industry, surgical goods and sports manufacturing factories. I doubt there exists an industry that is free of child labour”.

And at the end there is the final stroke - a generation that is being brought up against the backdrop of the inevitable paranoia, trauma and Islamophobic backlash, consequent upon actually belonging to a country that has been listed by Forbes and is often portrayed by Western media tirade as one of the most dangerous places in the world. On December 16, 2014 132 beautiful little children were killed mercilessly by Taliban. There was plenty of rage and emotion and hurt and scurrying of committees and political and military statements. Their lives were treated as a sacrifice, one we had no right to ask from them or their families.

Those of us in safer homes and friendlier environments, let’s take a moment to be grateful and remind ourselves of the promise we made to all the children of Pakistan at the time of the Kasur incident, APS tragedy and the Charsadda attack. Let’s resolve to end the suffering that continues in Thar and Waziristan. May our thoughts, prayers and efforts always be with our children.