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Children:The Silent Victims

By Ziaur Rehman

09 September, 2007
The News

"A 12-year-old girl was stripped and made to stand in public in a village near Shehr Sultan, Muzaffargarh, by her neighbours to teach her a lesson for the sin she had never committed. As in the Meerwala case, the suspicion was that the girl's brother had illicit relations with a woman of the rival group."

"Muhammad Ashraf, a factory worker from Lahore, murdered his three minor daughters by slitting their throats. Ashraf's plea for murdering his daughters was that he was too poor to bring them up."

"A minor boy committed suicide in Lahore on May 16, 2006, after being told off by his mother. The boy's father said that his wife rebuked their 12-year-old son over a petty issue."

"A student of class VIII, resident of a village in Sindh, reported to the police that her addict farther had been molesting her for the past six years."

These black facts have been taken from Annual Report 2006 of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC). Every child has a right to live in an environment that is peaceful, safe, friendly and free from violence. However, it is a harsh truth that violence against children is prevalent throughout the world with varying degrees.

Violation of the children's rights to protection, despite being massive, is an under-recognised and under-reported phenomenon in Pakistan. It is a barrier to children's survival and development, besides being a human rights violation. The children subjected to violation, exploitation, abuse and neglect are at risk of death, poor physical and mental health, HIV/AIDS, displacement, homelessness, vagrancy, and poor parenting skills later in life.

"Most of the violence against children -- whether inside homes, schools, care and justice institutions, the workplace or the community -- is implicitly socially condoned and remains invisible," says Professor Paulo Pinheiro, leader of the United Nations global study on Violence against Children.

Pinheiro notes that children can suffer abuse in a variety of settings, including at schools or in detention facilities. In addition, an estimated one million children are forced to work in prostitution, child pornography or similar activities each year. "Many are forced, kidnapped, sold and deceived in these activities, or are victims of trafficking. In many different ways, children are vulnerable to multiple forms of violence that threaten their physical and psychological integrity. This is a constant phenomenon that knows no political, cultural, economic or technological boundaries," he adds.

The UN report provides a global picture of violence against children, and proposes recommendations to address this issue. The study was prepared through a participatory process that included regional, sub-regional and national consultations, experts' thematic meetings, and field visits.

Violence against children in Pakistan is a neglected, and therefore an accepted, phenomenon. Akhter Hussain Baloch, regional manager of SPARC, states: "Violence against children is widespread, as it is justified as a natural consequence of illiteracy, poverty, population explosion, poor governance and lopsided government priorities."

According to Cruel Numbers, a report published by Islamabad-based child rights organisation Sahil, in 2006, as many as 2,447 children became victims of violence throughout the country. Most of these children were abducted for sexual purposes and sodomy. This is also the major reason that an increasing number of children are committing suicides.

Rana Asif Habib, president of the Initiator Development Foundation, a Karachi-based organisaton working on street children, opines: "The main reasons behind increasing violence against children are poverty, frustration, and lack of understanding and support from parents and teachers."

Pointing out other factors that are responsible for the increasing violence against children, Akhter Baloch says: "They include easy access to and availability of arms, the rise in the power of extremists, lack of accountability at all levels, and criminalisation of the society."

The concept of violence is clearly defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), especially in articles 19, 34 and 37; other human rights treaties; and human rights instruments, such as the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. According to Article 19 of the UNCRC, violence includes: "All forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, and maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse." It is also supported by the general definition of child abuse agreed by experts participating in the World Health Organisation Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention in 1999.

Violence against children may be divided into three broad categories --physical violence, sexual violence and psychological violence. Incest, corporal punishment, vani/swara, child marriages and child trafficking are some of the other types of violence against children.

Violence against children begins even before a child is born, as we see in the rising number of foeticide cases taking place worldwide and particularly in South Asia, including Pakistan. Born a girl, the child suffers a whole set of abuse ranging from neglect and indifference to no access to basic rights such as education, recreation, love and care, nourishment, and healthcare. An early marriage, procreating before the body is ready for such a rigorous exercise, leaving home before she has outgrown her own childhood is the fate of little girl. Rape, molestation, acid throwing, assault, trafficking or girls is all too common.

Boys fare no better as far as abuse in concerned. Sexual abuse of boys is culturally accepted in certain parts of Pakistan. Besides, verbal, emotional and physical violence is also part of their life.


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