Islamabad-On a winter night, in the middle of a deserted road, as soon as the traffic signal turned red, a girl clad in a dirty torn chaddar (shawl) over a thin layer of clothing stepped forward. She knocked the side window mirror of my car to say something. As I rolled down the window, a pale-faced, dark-complexioned 9 year old called Mariyum begged me to buy some fresh roses. Rather than purchasing the flowers, I asked her the reason for being on the road at that time of night. Mariyum told me that she was an orphan, living in Islamabad with her brother, sisters and a mother. Four years ago, her father passed away and her mother was working as a maid in a private house. Shivering from cold, she said “My dream is to become a teacher but we don’t have the money to send me to school, we wake up and watch well-dressed kids go to school every day”.

Crying about her financial conditions, she said that other kids go to school while she and her siblings head towards the market and then to traffic signals to sell flowers.

“Our roads are the same, but destinations different,” she reflected on her unheard dreams.

To a question about harsh weather conditions, Maryium replied that it didn’t matter if it was scorching hot or freezing cold, they had to sell their stuff.

The signal turned green and I left without purchasing flowers. However, I noticed that it was not Mariyum alone, but three other kids of school-going ages trying to sell items. Maryium is not the only girl on these roads. You can easily find many like her on various crossings and traffic signals in the capital. It is a tragedy that these little angels have to bear the comments and stares of different people. They don’t even know how to protect themselves from the mentally sick animals in human skin. These little flowers of our society are unaware of the filth that lies behind the smiling faces of their clients. They are unaware of the fact that seven-year-old Zainab from Kasur was maltreated by an animal in our society. Thousands of Zainabs are still on roads exposed to the dangers of the outside world. How can we protect them from sociopathic minds?

In the city of elites called Islamabad where Katchi abadis are full of kids like Maryium, one can easily find such kids on various traffic signals, crossings and markets.

The number of such working children has not reduced despite efforts of various governments and private sectors organisations to curb child labour.  It’s sad to watch little children who should be going to schools, on the streets. The children, who should be carrying pens and books, are lifting heavy bricks and selling items.

Each child has a right to enjoy a safe, carefree childhood. A survey conducted by Child Right Movement (CRM) last year claims over 12.5 million children in Pakistan are bounded to child labour.

Haidar Imtiaz, an Advocate from Islamabad High-Court told the scribe that there exists various laws regarding free and compulsory education, prohibition of child-labour, or regulating the working condition for adolescent workers.

Article 11(3) says that no child below the age of 14 years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment.

According to a report from a non-governmental organisation “Sahil” which works on child sexual abuse cases says that in the first six months of 2017, an estimated 1764 child abuse cases (with age group of 5 to 18 years).

As compared to 2016, there was a decrease in child sexual abuse cases but the female minor rape cases were increased by 20 percent.

Gohar Mumtaz, a social activist from ‘Sahil’ informed that it is their keen attempt to get those cases recorded. After the Kasur incident, we recorded hundred cases, related to sexual abuse, Mumtaz  added.

– The writer is correspondent for Waqt News and can be reached at annishaikh92@gmail.com