IN recent days, Pakistanis have been forced to confront ugly truths that challenge notions that society here is concerned for its children. Sadly, it took a horrific rape-murder — that of six-year-old Zainab in Kasur — for such a realisation to come about. On Friday, members of the Sindh Assembly made child protection the central point of discussion in the house and demanded that the provincial government address the issue thoroughly. According to the social welfare adviser, the number of minors reported missing in Sindh by the end of last year was around 900, with Mirpurkhas followed by Karachi accounting for the highest figures. As per a child rights organisation, there were a total of 4,139 children in Pakistan who were abducted, missing or married off in 2016, a 10pc increase over the year before.
All such children are at risk of sexual abuse. Of those missing, runaways constitute the largest proportion; often it is a turbulent, at times outright violent, home environment that drives them away. They live rough on the streets, preyed upon by older children, by people in authority such as police, etc. Sometimes they turn to prostitution to survive. We have hidden behind the veneer of a conservative ethos for far too long. While the state must ensure that child molesters are punished and social services are more responsive to the needs of children, society as a whole has considerable work to do. For one, adults must be more aware of their children’s psychological needs, as well as their whereabouts. They should not delay in reporting a child missing; the first 24 hours are the most critical if a child is to be recovered alive. Educational institutions and families must give minors the tools and situational awareness that can help them stay safe; prudish reticence about sexual matters has not helped our children. Moreover, parents must foster a relationship with their children that does not inhibit communication and confidence-sharing.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018
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