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When silence screams

Published Jul 23, 2012 04:46pm


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Amidst the hustle bustle of buses, wagons and taxies, transporting passengers to and fro between Rawalpindi and the rest of Pakistan, there was a child who came to the city from Haripur, Hazara to seek employment.

“I met Haji sahab at a tea-stall near the Pir Wadhai Bus Stand when I was 12. He was a regular there. He asked me if I wanted to work by travelling and exploring the world. I could only say yes and that single word of agreement brought about the beginning of my ‘end’,” is how Saqib*, after seven years of being in the business, reminisced about his first encounter with the man who exposed him to child prostitution.

Saqib is amongst many children who are inducted into the world of underage prostitution, incognisant of the fact that they remain at the wrong end of the bargain. The statistics are imprecise, however, according to Rana Asif Habib, President of Initiator Human Development Foundation, over 150,000 children are working on the streets and approximately 50 per cent of them are involved in child prostitution.

Although child prostitution has become a common phenomenon in the country, conversely, bus stands and surrounding shabby inns are known the most for such activities. Quetta Bus Stand, Pir Wadhai Bus Stand, Faizabad Bus Stand and Karachi Bus Stand near Taj Complex are the names of few famous places that facilitate clientele indulging in such fetishes.

Why bus stands? Manizeh Bano, Director of Sahil — NGO working for the prevention of child abuse and exploitation — said, “Most of the children who become a part of this vicious circle are the ones who runaway from their homes. Poverty, quite evidently, remains one of the most important factors which motivate children to leave the safety of their homes. However, there are several other factors — corporal punishment at school and home ironically superseding all.”

“Most of them leave their towns and cities through buses. The procurers are always on a lookout for such children. They lure the children by providing them with food, clothing and accommodation, and before the child knows it, a client shows up on the door to rape him.”

“Children who retaliate are accused of theft and taken to the police. Procurers act as benefactors and arrange for the bail thus influencing the children to act as guided,” added Bano.

The obvious question is why the municipal authorities and police do not take action against the criminals? However, Bano and Habib emphasised that the nexus of this much organised crime syndicate keeps both the institutions ‘extremely happy’ and serve them regularly with underage children as baits. However, when the pressure to catch the criminals increases, due to media reports or other reasons, the groups relocate and move to other cities where their businesses flourish as usual.

Runaways are certainly not the only victims of child prostitution. Children working as labour, especially truck cleaners, automobile mechanics and waiters also become the target of this heinous crime syndicate. Experts believe that 90 per cent of working children, who are also involved in child prostitution, are male.

The leeches of our society take advantage of innocent children, whereas the weak moral fibres of our own character prompt us to alienate such children further. Non-governmental organisations and samaritans dedicatedly working for the welfare of street children, encounter huge setbacks when the society flags underage prostitutes as social outcasts.

Habib, while narrating his experience said, “It is hard to identify child prostitutes because they simply do not confess and freeing them from the clutches of this menacing evil is even more difficult. We try to help them through counselling sessions, unfortunately 90 per cent of them relapse into their old lifestyles because society refuses to accept them.”

According to Habib even Bait-ul-Maal is reluctant to support underage prostitutes because they are considered “immoral and evil”.

It is important to understand that children can never be immoral. They are what the environment and society teaches them to be. A child born or inducted into prostitution cannot question or fight his adversaries because he/she does not have the strength and authority to do so. They simply are what the society makes them. Flagging children as evil and a lost cause only proves our own moral demise.

Habib’s research signifies that most of the time the true nature of a child prostitutes’ work is unknown to the parents, regardless of which socio-economic group they represent. Bano also endorsed his opinion and said, “Most of these children belong to large families where parents are more concerned about the ‘inflow of money’ rather than the well-being of the several mouths to feed. Nobody questions them and a child, at the end of the day, is only a child. He only sees the happiness that the money brings to everyone and wishes to continue pleasing his so-called patrons.”

Since most underage prostitutes do not use contraceptives, they are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and, according to Habib, have an average life of 25-30 years.

“Since we work with street children, it is most unfortunate and saddening to see that many of the children die younger because of countless reasons including, substance and sexual abuse and diseases,” added Habib.

It is ironical that 36 per cent of Pakistan’s total population constitutes of children under the age of 15, yet, there is no organisation dedicatedly working for the welfare of children on the state level. With countless redundant ministries existing in Government of Pakistan’s portfolio, it is most unfortunate to observe that we do not have a ministry for child protection or a minister for the same.

Lack of accountability and ambiguous legislation motivate many abusers to take advantage of children. It is in the best interest of the country to formulate proper legislation to protect children’s rights and formulate a child protection monitoring bureau in all the provinces.

Children are the future of our society and with so many of them being victimised every day what hope do we have? What are we doing to our future generation?

Kofi Annan former secretary general of United Nations once said, "There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected and that their lives are free from fear."

I yearn to see a society where children’s rights are given its due share of importance. I hope to see the Haji sahabs of the world reprimanded publicly so that nobody dares to ruin the life of children anywhere across the globe and I sincerely hope that the unheard screams of countless underage prostitutes are made heard by people who are willing to bring about and accept the change.

Unless drastic and collective measures are undertaken to address the issues of child exploitation, the evil will continue to thrive and deprive our society from hundreds of beautiful minds.

*Identity concealed for security reasons.

Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (59) Closed

partab rai Jul 24, 2012 03:14am
Very good article
ahmadali86 Jul 23, 2012 10:45am
So what if a child retaliates, why don't Police involve in such cases and help the youth. Under age working should be banned and Police should take responsibility of it. They are youth of Pakistan and the future. Why we lack in everything?
sohail Jul 23, 2012 03:44pm
I am speechless -----
Daniyal Jul 23, 2012 12:37pm
Identity of the victim, not the author.
ahmadali86 Jul 24, 2012 07:34am
I second your comment Ali but Initially it's the Police who should be responsible, it's them who detect and prevent crime and then it comes to us, the citizens. Anyway we all know everything nothing new to talk bout..
basit Jul 23, 2012 03:56pm
Shameful as it is.. in a nation called Islamic republic the most henious crime going unnoticed under the very nose of bif wigs and the government,, ironically we see around everydays massive protests of political leaders , religious scholars etc spendind billions of public funds on long mrches and jaloos and rallys, may it be anti govt or even Nato supply,, does any one of these "patriots" or "mulk ka difa karney waley" ever had the pain to look into these grusome and shameful dilemma of our society??
Shahzad Kazi Jul 23, 2012 04:52pm
Most of the time children become laborers because it is their need and they do not have a choice. However, punishing the individuals who are exploiters and abusers of children is a must. Exemplary punishment needs to be given (castration for pedophiles?). if we do not set tough examples, nothing will change.
khan Jul 23, 2012 02:52pm
on this blessed day of ramadan i cried reading this. i have young children and i would kill all and everyone in this world to protect my children. who will protect these children? they could be your sons and daughters. Oh allah take vengeance on these enemies of humanity who take the innocence and destroy them. i beg my fellow human beings to help the charities and organsisations who help these innocnet children and please,please be gentle with your children.
Ashamed Human Jul 24, 2012 07:51am
My firend you have Hassan Nisar. This is a shame on humanity wherever it happens in the world...
Ashamed Human Jul 24, 2012 07:53am
I am ashamed to be a human being!!! Every animal on this earth is better than us....
Tariq Jul 23, 2012 04:39pm
And Pakistanis still have the nerve to call their country the 'ISLAMIC" Republic of Pakistan. What a joke.
Fahad Jul 24, 2012 07:58am
A group of individuals unified under the banner of society, if can't do the simplest of task easily viz the protection of its young budding and blossoming youth can't deserves to be called a humane and just society.
55goravens Jul 23, 2012 04:34pm
Quickest solution I can think of is that we donate (money and volunteer time) more and more to edhi foundation or other reliable non profits who know what they are doing. If they do not have a special unit for this issue they can create one. May Allah be the witness... i have no relationship to Edhi or any related non profit. I pray his organization has more funds and power than pakistani politicians. ameen.__for brothers and sisters in US please check and your employer may match your charitable donation. Edhi is well qualified non profit in US as well.
insan Jul 23, 2012 09:11am
Identity concealed? Doesn't look like it.
Ahmed Jumma Jul 23, 2012 09:13am
Mr. Rana Habib is the only person very well know for working on the task for too long. We have put everything at risk. We are creating so many problems in the society instead of eradicating any one. We are darkening the future of new generation by unlimited corruption. We have ruined our education system. How we will survive in the long run?
Rao Jul 23, 2012 11:43am
Very gud article, specially the topic. The root cause seems to be poverty everywhere
Daniyal Jul 23, 2012 12:35pm
A well written article on an issue we Pakistanis rarely talk about. I don't intend to suggest that the matter is trifle, but rather most of us haven't developed_ even after more than 60 years_ a sense of our responsibility towards the society. I'd like to see govt.. set up an (effective) child protection dept. on the frame works of American one.
Syed W. Ali Jul 23, 2012 11:41am
Never mind the police, the first question is that are you and I taking responsibility of the status quo? It is easy to lob responsibility on others. Most of us are waiting for a miracle and for someone else to do our job.
kami Jul 23, 2012 11:36am
It they don't have bread, let them eat cake. Does this ring any bells.
M Rafique Jul 23, 2012 07:02am
How can be the culprits apprehended and convicted without identifier
umesh Jul 23, 2012 07:09am
What a shame
K Niaz Jul 23, 2012 01:01pm
this is not new. Child prostitution near Pir Widhai has been going on ever since Pir Widhai adda started. Most of the boys going around doing different chores are sexually exploited. You can only address this if you abolish child labour and decree that all children up to the age of 15 need to be attending a school, and if not the parents or guardians will be persecuted. But this may remain as an elusive objective. There is another issue at hand. While the Ustad or anyone moving around an adda with a woman may be eyed as indulging in "zina" and there might be many ghairatmands who will stand up to question him going around with a woman, but those who go around with the "boys" are tolerated and such behaviour to a great extent is condoned in the settings that have been mentioned. In some instances the "boys" are proudly displayed. So while we hear many making tall claims of the standards of morality and values in our society - issues such as sexual exploitation of boys to such great extent shows how sick our society really is.
B.Ally Jul 23, 2012 07:18am
Haji Sahabs Now taking up the role of inducting Child prostitutes in the society are surely homosexuals themselves since their childhood. That is why they are so good at catching these boys at Bus Stands.. Such Haji Sahabs are a scorn on the face of the earth.
Ajay Jul 23, 2012 07:25am
Sorry, but this is not prostitution. Its peodophilia and rape. Prostitution is bad enough but this is so much worse. Don't equate the two.
khalid Jul 23, 2012 07:39am
The write up is a bitter reality of human lust and brutal animal instincts.You have done a commendable job in highlighting darker realities of our society.We should hung our heads in shame as we are allowing these nasty ,skunky events happen under our nose,every one has a moral responsibility to stop these pervert fetish acts.These'' HAJIS' are social nusiances,we need to curb them.
Cyrus Howell Jul 23, 2012 07:43am
Guess this is only step one. I am going to find out if Bangladesh has a Ministry For Child Protection. Wonderful idea.
SmartFaiz Jul 23, 2012 07:44am
Every thing you mentione was worth mentioning except for the fact that you called child abusers haaji saahab. That is you defaming our religion.
AYUB Jul 23, 2012 07:45am
aazur Jul 23, 2012 08:08am
Powerful story. However, I am concerned about the usage of this photograph with the article. Don't you think that it can cause problems for the child, even if he is now grown-up?
cocreativecommunications Jul 23, 2012 08:17am
very informative article...Children are the ones who are suffering most in our society..whether they are the fodder of madrassas or bread earners for the poor households...
sarmad Jul 23, 2012 08:35am
It was painful and heart breaking to read this article. This is an ugly truth which is with us from the ages but we are not daring enough to recognize and speak on it publically. This has root in poverty, when parents give births to children whom they cannot take care. It has been pointed out time and again that religious ceremonies are also the places where this practice is rampant besides bus stands. This cruel cycle which is going on in front of our eyes should be stopped. A mass awareness campaign is necessary to educate public. Appreciate for touching this issue and brining in the limelight.
BEA Jul 23, 2012 05:31pm
I have worked in Child Protection here int he UK, at least here children have someone to turn to the police, teachers or they can ring a free help line child protection is very good here in the UK if a claim is made by any child or adult concering a child it is always investigated we never igniored anyone who needed help. its sad to see that in Pakistan who claims to be an Islamic Republic this dredful crime is mainly ignored people involved in this should be put away for life, but them you can see why these kids do noy go to the police because they are scared or the police themselves are involved ie taking backhanders from the Pimps this needs to stop, there needs to be a Childerns Minister who can over look all concerns regarding children and their care.
Muhammad Ahmed Mufti Jul 23, 2012 06:12pm
Masses need to be educated on family planning. We are multiplying at an unsustainable rate. All the progress is nullified by one act i.e. multiply. Who will educate the mullahs? On top of that thanks to decades of neglect of merit and a system that rewards incompetence (Quota System) we have a governance machinery that cannot handle the challenges posed by fast growing population. This system has failed at all levels. The problem is one of many that need urgent attention. Perhaps NGO’s should come out of their comfort zones and help these innocent angels.
TIL Jul 23, 2012 07:08pm
Ahmed Jul 23, 2012 07:48pm
Why put this poor boy's face to represent child prostitutes?
Naseema Perveen Jul 23, 2012 08:07pm
a very bitter reality of society, children are angels, if they are provided with best environment they can reach the heights of sky & depths of oceans, they can be Newton, they can be Einstein, but this all is not possible because of the corrupted set up in our society..
human thing Jul 23, 2012 08:30pm
This is very encouraging that media has at least paying some attention towards the plight of children. A lot of child sexual workers and sexually exploited children in all settings (i.e at schools, at homes, community, workplaces) are out there in the hope that some day some one could help them to end their ordeal. It is an eye opener article. How We can Put an END to this. i can give some suggestions; I) Child Friendly legislation, 2) Child Protection infrastructure at government level which is empowered. 3) Child Protection Information Management system. (unfortunately We don't have any data of such children who need protection). 4. A statute body who could monitor the child rights situation and evaluate, monitor performance of Child Protection Agencies or bureaus. 5) a nation wide media campaign for changing perception of masses towards the child rights. and above all our commitment which is neither visible with government and nor with Civil Society.
Ahsan Jul 23, 2012 08:36pm
not a very good read...and i do not mean that in regard to the subject matter, just the quality of the article. Not a lot of effort was done in writing it and i doubt an effort was made to gather more information around the topic beyond what the writer got from Sahil. Too many words wasted on creating an emotional drama and not enough information being shared.
annas Jul 23, 2012 10:25pm
A very true picture put forward by the author and every one should feel pain in the cry of such children.
Umm Habibah Jul 24, 2012 12:47am
Child labour, child prostitution and child pornography are all disgusting by-products of a society whose basis is the pursuit of 'freedom' and the westernized values. On a daily basis, all citizens of our nation are exposed to sexual agitation in the form of TV adverts, billboards, magazines.. yet we are surprised when the young and vulnerable fall victim to those who cannot control their urges?! Please note: it is the job of the State to ensure that peoples' Islamic values are intact, that they are not exposed to sexualised imagery; are educated by the media for the attainment of the Islamic values (of seeking Allah's razaa) , and the State should also support them if they wish to get married despite being poor. When none of the above exist in the Pakistani society (and the opposite prevails, that is, the government's unashamed promotion of lewdness in media outlets) then such crimes against children become the norm. We need to account our ruling factions, it is their job..before ours.
Sahil Jul 24, 2012 01:42am
India can you loan Amir Khan to us for 1 year to expose these ugly realities. You are blessed with Amir and we need to find our own.
usmanmech Jul 24, 2012 02:23am
Sodomize and molesting with the children are the stygian face of our society.These causes are being exocriated to our society.Author opinions are salient and everyone is gemutlich with her.Succinctly, the CHILD LABOUR is the primary cause of aforementioned reasons.We can subvert this rancor pandemic by putting the quash on CHILD LABOUR
Hari Jul 24, 2012 02:59am
An sure this is same or even more worse in India. In India nobody even bother to speak about. Good that dawn have spoken about it. I humdly request dawn to open a Indian edition at the earliest.
Muneer Mirza Jul 24, 2012 02:59am
With people like Faiza Mirza lies the hope for Pakistan. A community or nation is judged by its treatment of those who have no voice; the weak, sick, women, children, minorities and animals as well! We encourage you to keep up the good work! M. Mirza, USA
shirin Jul 24, 2012 03:48am
Men... always men... will give you these elements as root cause of all evil - zun (woman), zar (money), and zameen (land). Should we now add children as a fourth element? What does it take for men to look in the mirror and see the evil. You and your sick honor! You are cowards.
Najam Jul 24, 2012 04:14am
Children are weakest part of any society. What can I do to help? I think all of us here have the same question whether we expressed it or not.
amin Jul 24, 2012 04:33am
its not only happining in bus stands but allso small towns and villages all over pakistan i my self was abuse at young age and it affected me mently its so sad that ppl are not discussing this topic more openly so the we can reduce this one of huge problem that is efecting our country.
Adeela syed Jul 24, 2012 04:55am
shame on us, we cannot protect our children. shame on this society, where a mother has to abandon her children for earning bread. if she won't work her children will sleep hungry. shame on this nation, who is watching this like a dead crowd. We all must read holy Quran with meanings so that we know the reasons of our existence.
RealityCheck Jul 24, 2012 05:37am
For God's sake stop this "westernised value" diatribe. Western countries protect their youth a whole lot better than what we do. You think this exploitations started with need a serious reality check. What about in afghanistan where there is not billboards or "sexually agitating (as you call it)" material. Child prostitution and rape are the worst there. Stop blaming the west for everything that is the root cause of our defeatist nature....apnay girayban main phelay chankain....phir doosron par ungli uthain
Bobby-Allen Jul 24, 2012 06:34am
Brilliant and very in-depth article. Loved your honesty
ISH Jul 24, 2012 06:39am
What Islamic values? These gruesome acts of brutality are even taking place inside madarassahs which are supposed to be one of the first few to be practicing 'Islamic' moral code. Westernized values do not dictate us to rape children. They are among the first ones to set up institutions to safeguard the rights of children during this era. Why cant we find and follow such things of the western world instead of lamenting them for all our misfortunes? Why cant we understand that such acts are not just wrong according to Islamic laws, they are also punishable according to a normal 'human' moral code? Dragging religion into such matters is not going to solve our problems. Also, I dont believe there are specific laws in shariah governing these kinds of situation (in the same way as I cannot find any law against child marriages in shariah).
uselessanger Jul 24, 2012 06:51am
What a standard comment but so painful in this context...its the west's fault...and individuals are not responsible for what they do are they or for what they ignore...
Komal S Jul 24, 2012 06:53am
There you go again, let us bash up western culture or it's values. We need to know that these evils can easily be part of any society western , eastern, islamic, christian, hindu or Buddhist. Atleast the western society confonts these issues in an open manner and provide opportunity for the victims to rehabilitate. Unfortunately developing countries like India, Pakistan or others still are in denial mode.
Jay Jul 24, 2012 06:54am
Child prostitution is rampant in Russia, Thailand, Brazil etc, poverty is the root of this evil, perhaps the all these kids should be inducted into a Youth Corps of the Army, like in Cuba, taught trades and civic pride. While at it also shut down madrassas, instead educate students in Youth Corps of the Army. The army has the budget, lets create a new generation of kids safe from exploitation, under the watchful eye of the Military.
MAH Jul 24, 2012 06:59am
I object to the term "underage prostitution" used here. Could there be a 'right' age for prostitution!
Misbah Jul 24, 2012 07:03am
It is quite convenient to blame the West for our vices. The people who are more exposed to western media are not the people involved in these heinous crimes. Mostly these are the 'less-exposed people' instead. Let me ask a question here - are there more child prostates in western countries or in asian countries!
Jay Jul 24, 2012 07:03am
Please dont blame the Western values, child prostitution and explorations has exited for thousands of years in Islamic civilization, the media is not causing this menace its very old phenomena due to poverty in our feudal based societies where the poor are exploited and Islamic institutions ignore it, much the same way Catholic priests got away with child molestation.
naeem Jul 24, 2012 09:25pm
"Baccha baazi" has been a silent tradition of our culture from Afganistan to Pakistan and also India. It is a unfortunate by product of poverty and a society that refuses to mature. Education, education and more education needed!!! These things are happening everywhere in the country and we need to combat itwith a specail program.
Amna Aug 02, 2012 08:30am
So sad !