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Silent cries

Editorial Board
Saturday, Mar 02, 2024

Eleven children are sexually abused every single day in Pakistan. Let that sink in. Data by Unicef suggests that over 102 million people in the country are under the age of 18 (or children). In an ideal world, this statistic would have made political parties across the country introduce more programmes for the country’s young while simultaneously turning the country into a haven for these people. But the reality is just the opposite. According to a report released by an NGO ‘Sahil’, at least 11 children in Pakistan become a victims of sexual abuse on a daily basis. The report concludes that over 4,200 children were sexually abused in Pakistan in the year 2023; 53 per cent of the victims were girls and the rest were boys. This data becomes more horrifying when we take into account the fact that most cases of child sexual abuse often go unreported, and this implies that the official figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

Children employed as domestic helpers especially remain deprived of the security they deserve. Last year, the case of a girl who was employed at a pir’s haveli in rural Sindh gave a glimpse into the torturous life that most children lead. The vulnerability of these children is often neglected by people who blame their parents for using their children for their financial needs. This disdain towards the poor and the lack of understanding of their socio-economic conditions has led to a society where predators roam free. Policymakers in the country do not show interest in tackling the problem. While several apps have been launched to make it easier for people to report a child abuse case, there is no significant field work to ensure that children’s rights are protected.

Pakistan is one the countries badly affected by the ‘war on terror’. Decades of war and violence left many children orphaned or separated from their families. These children can be seen at traffic signals, collecting money for their contractors who continue to exploit them. Thousands of children work from dawn to dusk against menial wages and are then subjected to violent acts by their employers. All of this is an open secret, and yet no one dares to raise their voice for these children. There are signs for those who care – girls at traffic signals disappearing for months and then reappearing with an infant in their hands; boys under the age of five sleeping on footpaths, relying on the mercy of any stranger and fellow beggars; older boys sitting near abandoned buildings sharing syringes. These children wait to be rescued, and when they get no help, they become a part of a vicious cycle. To tackle the problem, the government has to set up child protection bureaus, employing trained psychologists who can help both children and parents to lead healthy lives. The issue of child sexual abuse will not disappear miraculously; we need work on this that includes child protection and abuse prosecution.