THE children of Pakistan face many odds. From malnutrition to exposure to various forms of violence to diseases as debilitating as polio, the younger generation has to contend with a host of extraordinary challenges. For children living on the streets the risks are even greater, and including substance abuse and routine sexual violence. And as a recent report in this paper indicated, the threat of an HIV epidemic amongst street children is an emerging concern. According to health officials in Sindh, six out of 10 drug-using street children registered with a Karachi-based NGO were found to be HIV-positive. This may reflect a bigger trend. The children had been using contaminated needles or were sexually abused. HIV is prevalent amongst injecting drug users and sex workers in the country. Because street children are exposed to drugs and sexual predators, this creates an extremely vulnerable sub-group likely to be infected with HIV. Meanwhile, according to recent figures released by the NGO Madadgaar Helpline, over 2,300 children across Pakistan were subjected to different types of violence in the first half of this year. These included cases — only those reported — of rape, torture and murder.
As in other areas, after devolution it is the provinces’ duty to pass laws concerning children’s welfare. But barring a few exceptions, there has been a lack of intent and capacity at the provincial level to pass and implement laws to protect children. For example, Karachi, which observers estimate has a population of thousands of street children, does not have even a single state-operated rehabilitation home for the young ones. Only a few private concerns are making efforts in this regard. The fact is legislation is only a first step. What is needed most is compassion at the societal level for vulnerable children and the realisation that children have inviolable rights; rights that society denies them in a brutal fashion. Even the best laws are useless if not implemented. Until society reforms itself and the state moves beyond rhetoric and takes practical steps for the rehabilitation and welfare of children, we will only be bequeathing misery to the next generation.