A childhood lost: Jamila's story

She wanted to make something out of herself but accepted her circumstances as they were.
Published April 6, 2015

She's up at first light just when the horizon can be discerned; her duties and daily chores rise with her. She cooks breakfast for her aunt and her cousins, washes the dishes and clothes before she steps out for work.

Jamila is 17-years-old.

A short, thin girl with a soft face; her warm smile overwhelms the burdens she’s been carrying since she was a toddler. She has a delicate, round face with radiant hazel eyes that, you can’t help but notice, dream big.

Jamila was four-years-old when her parents decided to send her away to the city to her aunt.

Here she was to learn household chores and babysit her one-year-old cousin. In exchange of this, her parents received 500 rupees and a carton of oil each month.

The little girl who aspired to get an education now works as maid at a house near Karachi's Azam basti, one of the most populated colonies of the country's financial capital and where Jamila lives in a small house.

She wanted to make something out of herself but has gradually accepted things as they stand, a situation that befalls many unfortunate children in Pakistan. She is, however, unaffected by the toil.

“I just want my parents to love me,” Jamila says, and clearly it’s the only thing she wants. She aspires to be a diligent, noble daughter and continues to help her family earn a living.

In a home, where the father and mother reap off the struggles and sacrifices of their children who are barely adults, girls like Jamila, are entangled in the fear of letting their families down.

Round the clock she moves, pleasing her parents, pleasing her aunt, and taking the responsibility of earning for her younger siblings when she can barely take care of herself.

Like Jamila, there are many other girls suffering the brunt of this pervasive abuse. Her younger sisters will sadly likely be entrapped in the same cycle. These kids are not only deprived of an education, circumstances force them to mature very early. An entire childhood is lost.

View Infographic: 10 alarming statistics about Pakistan's out-of-school children

Jamila is originally from a small town named Jampur, located in southern Punjab.

This part of the country is plagued with several ills such as child labour, domestic violence, human trafficking and honour killings amongst others.

But each year multitudes of girls flock to Karachi in search of better living conditions and to seek refuge. It is what their mothers went through and they're merely following tradition, willingly or unwillingly. And what a mother suffers from, a daughter tends to repeat while upbringing her children, leaving the girls from one generation after the next, deprived of an education.

Jamila’s circumstances are mainly a consequence of parental dysfunction and inequality.

When she turned 17, this would have been a crucial year for her childhood; she would’ve finished high school. Instead, it marked another year of loss.

Her aunt, whom she says cares for more than anyone in the world, got her engaged to a cousin.

The boy is 18.

In Pakistan. Source: Unicef
In Pakistan. Source: Unicef

But Jamila has somehow remained unshackled in her mind all this time and says she would never repeat the mistakes her parents made.

“I will get married to my fiancé, I will love him and I will have beautiful kids with him. But my kids’ won’t work, they will only study. The will go to school, then for tuition, and then play in the evening,” she reassures herself.

“I will buy them lots of books,” she excitedly adds holding her colouring book in her hand.

At the house where she works, she tries to quickly wrap up, just in time to spend the last 30 minutes colouring and learning the introductory alphabets of Urdu and English language.

Jamila has learnt how to count and she has learnt how to introduce herself in English too.

Opportunity seldom comes knocking at Jamila's door, but she is always in anticipation of change.

Desperate to break barriers, she works really hard teaching herself all that she can, knowing that time is of the essence. Tomorrow she’ll be a wife and then soon a mother.

She cherishes every second of her life, trying to be as productive as she can. Learning things in expectation of leading life in a better tomorrow.

As days go by, Jamila hopes her mother will return one day to take her back. She envisages a time where she lives with her parents, who she says love her dearly.

As she gets ready for bed; sleeping amongst six other children on the floor, she stares at the cracks on the ceiling. The raindrops make a dripping sound as they land in a silver bowl; she blows out the last candle and reassures herself everyday:

“You were never meant to be like your mom. You will be different.”