Popular TV drama, Udaari, and mind-boggling incidents of child kidnapping are reflections of the fact as to how the innocent children, who otherwise deserve love and care, are being treated in our society. Kidnapping incidents have moved all but the government which characteristically stands apathetic. Pakistan, according to an estimate, is the third biggest country in the world in terms of violence on children. 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 them. As per the findings of American Psychological Association, only ten percent of the perpetrators are strangers to the children and there is usually less probability of strangers abusing the child. The strangers may include parents, members of family, teachers, caretakers, law-enforcement authorities and, at times, other children. Some children because of their gender, race, ethnicity, disability and social status are particularly vulnerable to violence.
According to the report entitled “Pakistan’s Children 2014,” prepared by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, nearly 70,000 cases of violence against children were reported only in 2014; though the number of unreported incidents far exceeds the reported ones. The report revealed that there were 1225 cases of rape/sodomy including gang-rape and gang-sodomy against children. At least 142 victims were murdered after being sexually assaulted. It also reported that 8 percent victims of sexual abuse aged between six and ten years, and 26 percent were in the age group of 11-15, while 11 percent were 16-18 years. Shockingly, among the victims were also a few babies aged up to one year.
According to the report, the abduction cases increased by 7 percent from 1706 in 2013 to 1831 in 2014, whereas in 2015, some 1200 children were kidnapped. Now look at the number of kidnappings this year; it has reached 767 in Punjab alone with almost four months to go on in the year. Appallingly, 312 children have been kidnapped from Lahore during the ongoing year.
There are various factors which are contributing to the ever-increasing incidents and rates of violence against children. Poverty is one of the main factors that are causing frustration among the poor parents. Resultantly, they are unable to perform their parental duties in an effective manner. Moreover, child marriage and giving away of daughters as replacement of compromise in cruel customs, like Wani and Swara, are among the most heinous crimes against children and these too stem from poverty. Every now and then we read stories 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 on repeating the same cycle of violence which they have observed in their own childhood.
Social injustice, police tyranny, mental torture suffered by people in hospitals and courts generate frustration among the people thereby making them less caring parents. Likewise 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 run not only jeopardizes their health but also undermines their ability to be productive and useful citizens in future.
Pakistan failed miserably to meet MDGs especially that related to 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 the 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 solid legal framework in place to provide the support needed by the families and educational institutions to fulfil their above-mentioned roles.
In societies, like ours, where authoritarian relationship exists between adults and the children, violence becomes the natural outcome. The very belief prevalent in our society that adults have unlimited rights in bringing up the children, compromises any approach aimed at curbing violence committed within homes, schools and state institutions. We need to listen to our children in order to address their needs. For bringing substantial change in our approach to deal with the children, the attitudes that promote violence need to be discouraged.
Given the recent kid-nappings and violence against children, the government must realize that it is an emergency. Now the scale and impact of violence against children is becoming increasingly visible. In a country like ours where the government is not in the business of learning and willing to rise to the occasion, the parents need to stay alert and discharge their duties of protecting their children effectively. The government has conveyed the message very loud and clear: this is not a new phenomenon, and take care of your children by yourself.