Children at risk

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Muhammad shahid

The popular TV drama, Udaari, and mind-boggling incidents of kidnappings of children are reflections of the fact how innocent children who otherwise deserve love and care are being treated in our society. Kidnappings have moved everyone except the government, which characteristically stands less moved. Pakistan, according to an estimate, is the third most violent country in the world where children are not safe
Violence against children is a universal phenomenon. It occurs almost everywhere — in homes, schools, streets, places of work, and care and detention centres. Perpetrators, unfortunately, in most of the cases are not strangers to these children. According to the American Psychological Association, only 10 percent of the perpetrators are strangers to the child, and there is usually less probability of strangers abusing the child. They may include parents, family members, teachers, caretakers, law enforcement authorities, and at times, other children. Some children because of their gender, race, ethnic origin, disability and social status are particularly vulnerable.
The report titled “Pakistan’s Children-2014,” prepared by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, found that nearly 70,000 cases of violence against children were reported in 2014, though the number of unreported incidents was estimated to be higher. According to the report, there were 1,225 cases of rape/sodomy, including gang-rape and gang-sodomy. At least 142 victims were murdered after being sexually assaulted. It was also revealed that eight percent of victims of sexual abuse were aged between six and 10 years, 26 percent in the age group of 11-15, while 11 percent were 16-18 years of age. Sadly, among the victims there were also a few babies aged up to one year.
According to the report, the abduction cases increased by seven percent from 1,706 in 2,013 to 1,831 in 2014; whereas in 2015, approximately, 1,200 children were kidnapped. Now look at the number of kidnappings this year. It has reached 767 in Punjab alone, with almost five months to go in the year. Shockingly, 312 children have been kidnapped from Lahore during the current year.
There are various factors that are contributing to this ever-increasing rate of violence against children. Poverty is one of the main factors of causing frustration among poor parents. Resultantly, they are unable to discharge their duties as parents in an effective manner. Moreover, child marriage and giving away of daughters as replacement of compromise are heinous crimes against children; these crimes also stem from poverty. We read stories, every now and then, of killing of children by their parents because of poverty.
Illiteracy is yet another factor responsible for child abuse at home. Illiterate people often keep repeating the same cycle of violence that they have observed in their own childhood.
Social injustice, police tyranny, and mental torture suffered by people in hospitals and courts generate frustration among them thereby making them less caring parents. Likewise, the ever-increasing trend of violence in society, and lack of effective laws to check domestic violence make children more vulnerable to torture by parents and other members of their family.
The consequences of violence against children can be devastating and long-lasting, both for the children and society. It can result even in early deaths, and those who survive undergo terrible emotional and physical shocks. Violence in the long term not only jeopardises their health but also undermines their ability to be productive and useful citizens.
Pakistan failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals on child rights, and if the increasing trend of violence continues unabated, we are likely to cut a sorry figure in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals on child rights.
The institution of family is instrumental in providing physical and emotional care to children. Educational institutions have a fundamental role to play in ensuring the development of children’s potential in a safe and healthy atmosphere. But it is the prime responsibility of the government to have a solid legal framework in place to provide the support needed by families and educational institutions to fulfil their above-mentioned roles.
In societies like ours where authoritarian relationship exists between adults and children, violence becomes the natural outcome. The very belief prevalent in our society that adults have unlimited rights in bringing up of children compromises any approach aimed at curbing violence committed within homes, schools and state institutions. We need to listen to our children so that their needs can be addressed. For bringing substantial change in our approach to deal with children, the attitudes that promote violence need to be discouraged.
Given the recent kidnappings and violence against children, government must realise that it is an emergency. Now the scale and impact of violence against children is becoming increasingly visible. In a country like ours where government is not in the business of learning and willing to rise to the occasion, parents need to stay alert and discharge their duties of protecting their children effectively. Government has conveyed the message very loud and clear: this is not a new phenomenon and that you have to take care of your own children.