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The question of Quality Education

It’s not just the number of out-of-school children that is worrisome, but also the quality of education they are provided

The question of quality

One day, when in a meeting he was required to answer some questions put by the district officer, his vocal chords gave up. “I couldn’t produce a single sound from my throat. Teaching from 6am to 6pm, all alone, was not easy.”

Decades later, nothing much has changed. Today, there are 55 children studying in his school in Charnor, with only one teacher, his son who took over his father’s job after he retired. “My son is not paid; he is a volunteer. We hope that the Sindh government will actually hire more teachers as is being promised,” says Mal.

A government school officially, it’s made up of three small huts, with neither toilets nor electricity. Foreign philanthropists helped fund a solar water pump, so the school has water, a luxury in Tharparkar. The curriculum is provided by the government. Grades 1, 2 and 3 are taught on one day, and grades 4 and 5 are taught the next, all clumped together in small rooms in the unrelenting Thar Desert heat. With one teacher teaching 55 students of five grades all subjects, and a lack of resources, the quality of education is low down on the list of priorities.

Read also: When the going gets tough

While the Pakistan Education Statistics Report 2015-16 proudly states that the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in grades 1-12 has reduced by 3 per cent a year from 25.96 million in 2012-13 to 22.64 million in 2015-16, 22 million plus are still OOSC in Pakistan.

What’s worrisome is not just the numbers, but also the quality of education the children going to schools are provided.

“Teachers are not motivated enough to excel in such an environment and perform their duties in a perfunctory manner which is a setback to the learning process of the children,” says Varisha Khalid Nabi, Member, Board of trustees, The Justuju School, Karachi. Schools like Justuju are numbered, but are rays of hope, fighting against the odds.

Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says.

The Justuju School started five years ago in the underprivileged Azam Basti in an attempt to bridge the gap between government and private school education. It began with 30 students; today it is 270 students-strong. The school runs on donations, yet is known for the standard of education and teaching, and the drop-out rate is close to zero. The parents of these children might be poor and uneducated, but have recognised the importance of quality education, which is why they vie for admission here. The key is the emphasis on the teachers’ training. Their academic department is pro-active in equipping teachers with the required skills sets, and has formed alliances with organisations that facilitate trainings and evaluations.

“We started the school to provide education parallel to any good private school. Quality education shouldn’t just be the privilege of the rich but a right of every citizen,” says Varisha.

Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says, adding that the infrastructure is just one of the factors to quality education. In his view, Pakistan’s dilemma is that “the smart child is being taught by the inept teacher. The teacher is no longer the fount of knowledge. The student has access to sources of knowledge that the teacher doesn’t,” he says, and continues that it is unfortunate that many senior teachers refuse to keep up with the times, ignoring the use of tools like the internet.

At senior levels, if schools don’t provide education that keeps up with the times, students may drop-out, and join specialised institutes instead.

Teaching methodologies are important if the bar of the quality of education is to be raised in Pakistan. “A student-oriented approach is used in privileged schools which is non-existent in public schools,” says Asma Munir Salman, teacher and founder of APNA Shelter Home and Learning Centre in Islamabad.

Her experience has been both as a teacher in upper tier schools and also as the person behind APNA, a school providing quality education to underprivileged children. She cites teaching techniques like collaborative learning, group discussions, and use of analytical and reflective approaches. “But in public schools, they’re still using the ‘chalk and talk’ method even in this technological world,” she says. “They feel intimidated by their students if asked questions. They make them cram information without making them understand. I have come across teachers who solve math problems on the board themselves and make their students copy them down and learn them.”

Husain feels that upper tier schools don’t even have the alibi of a lack of resources. They charge exorbitant amounts as fee, yet still lag behind technologically. He says that teachers today are focusing on “professionalism, which is the status of the profession in society, but not on professionality, which is having the required knowledge and skill sets.”

When asked about the makings of a good classroom, he says that the answer lies in three things: “respecting the child’s individual voice, providing a safe space for the child to grow, and accepting all kinds of diversity in the class”.

The onus to not just give quality education but also to keep the children in school, then, largely lies on the teachers, and on their training and growth. “Teaching is a prophetic profession. People should be tested and chosen to become teachers only if they can be as sincere to the students as they are to their own children,” says Mal.

As Husain sums it up, education in its best sense should allow children to have role models in every domain of excellence.

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Udaari reveals Pakistan’s best kept secrets

Published: September 29, 2016
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PHOTO: Draamaz

PHOTO: Draamaz

“Watch Udaari; it is unlike any other drama,” I had said, trying to convince a friend to watch the drama. “No way! Children being abused. Don’t want to even think about it,” was the immediate response.

Brushing issues under the carpet is what we do best. A study titled ‘The state of Pakistan’s children 2015’ by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) states 10 cases of child sexual abuse took place every day in 2015, bringing the total to 3,768 cases last year. These are registered cases. Any educated and realistic guess will tell us that to get the real number it would have to be multiplied manifold. Of these, a lot of abuse cases are incestuous. Communal living may have many advantages as a support system but also exposes unassuming children, and even grown-ups, to the dangers of sexual abuse and rape.

Mann Mayal has ended and Twitter can’t handle it

What Udaari has done is remarkable. It was not because Ahsan Khan played out a difficult character with unexpected brilliance, and that Samia Mumtaz played Sajju so convincingly that everyone who saw the drama wanted to bring her and Zebo home and protect them. It was a brilliant play, well scripted and directed, and technically could have been more nuanced and the characters more layered, but this is not a review of Udaari. This is a look in the mirror. And Udaari became that mirror.

As a journalist who has worked on gender rights and sexual and reproductive health issues, I have met victims of rape of all kinds, including victims of marital rape and sex workers who were raped. Rape is never a laughing matter. Whenever someone cracks a joke about rape, I think of the times when these jokes may not have bothered me because I had not met the butts of those jokes and heard their stories in person. I had not seen the scars, both physical and non-physical, that acts of cowardice and weakness such as domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape leave behind. Watching Udaari made me think of some unfortunate souls, victims and others survivors.

When those children in Kasur, who were sexually abused by the gang who made a living out of selling videos of the acts and blackmailed them, saw Udaari with their families, what must it be like for them? What was the reaction of viewers who saw Udaari in groups or in isolation in Pakistan’s many homes where traders of the flesh reside? The woman in Tharparkar who was gang-raped some two years ago, and got justice after I wrote her story that prompted a suo moto action by the chief justice – what was she thinking when she saw Udaari? The play hit home with the audiences. But it must have been an unforgettable watch for those who have directly or indirectly been exposed to such despicable acts.

Udaari cast shares final thoughts as fans await finale

In 1980 an Indian film, Insaf ka Tarazu, starring Zeenat Aman was initially met with negative responses for being too bold. Rape was something that was not meant to be depicted so openly. It opened certain shut doors. Udaari has managed a much bolder theme more than two decades later in Pakistan, deftly and without relying on the objectification of women as sex objects. It has succeeded in making sure that the take-home message remains that one who has been raped need not be a victim but also be a survivor, instead of the focus being on Zebo’s youth or beauty. This is no mean feat.

But perhaps the biggest contribution of any article, news clipping or talk show, or any drama like Udaari is daring to make taboo and hushed up topics like child sexual abuse open to discussion on a dinner table, at work place and on social media. Let us stop pretending that these evils don’t exist in our society, and that too closer to us than we think. Recognising an issue is the first step to solving it.

Being a mother – How breastfeeding can save lives of Pakistan’s infants

breastfeeding pic
By Farahnaz Zahidi

August 7, 2016

The myth that just mother’s milk does not suffice has caught on, and this trend is an imminent danger to the lives of Pakistani infants

Her fifth child is due any day. Nazeer Bibi lives in a shanty part of Qayyumabad, Karachi, and has already decided that she will feed her baby formula milk.
“I work in three houses as a domestic help to support my family. I leave at 8 am after dropping my older children to school and return by 4 pm, and the baby will have to be at home. What option do I have? Besides, dabbay ka doodh (formula milk) makes babies healthier. I want my baby to be healthy like the babies in advertisements.”
Nazeer’s baby will be one of the 62 per cent Pakistani infants who are not exclusively breastfed. Only 38 per cent of infants under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed, according to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2012-13. The rates are the lowest in South Asia.
The myth that just mother’s milk does not suffice has caught on, and this trend is an imminent danger to the lives of Pakistani infants, a danger that is not talked about often enough. As the World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated globally from August 1-7, the conversation around breastfeeding needs to be more audible and frequent in Pakistan. But bringing up the topic inevitably initiates parallel discourse regarding how lives of infants are less safer till formula milk is promoted as a choice. “From tobacco, to sugar, to formula milk, the most vulnerable suffer when commercial interests collide with public health,” says an editorial in medical journal The Lancet.
“Formula milk should only be given when there is a medical reason for it,” says Dr Azra Ahsan, an expert in mother and child health. “The baby gets complete nutrition through breastfeeding. The mother passes on her protective antibodies to prevent common illnesses in the baby. As no water is required to prepare it, unlike how formula milk is prepared, the chances of diarrohea and vomiting are minimised.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), breastfeeding has the potential to prevent about 800,000 under-five deaths per year globally if all children 0-23 months were optimally breastfed. Pakistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the region, all the more reason that breastfeeding must be encouraged, especially among the lower income strata.
The PDHS 2012-13 findings also show increase in bottle feeding rates in Pakistan.
“Babies who are born to mothers from the lower income strata are more at danger if they are not exclusively breastfed. The water these mothers use to prepare the formula is unhygienic, and the bottles are not sterilized. Also, formula milk is not cheap. Once they start the baby on it, they start diluting the milk over time so that the formula powder lasts longer; as a result, the baby becomes malnourished,” says Neha Mankani who works as a community health midwife at a hospital in Karachi.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), breastfeeding has the potential to prevent about 800,000 under-five deaths per year globally if all children 0-23 months were optimally breastfed.
Once the baby is started off on top feed, the unaffording or unaware mother, over time, starts substituting it with unboiled cow’s milk or low quality tea whitening milk powder which is unsuited for an infant. “We can try and convince the mothers but only till they are in the hospital. Also, Community Health Workers (CHWs) have no access to women who deliver at home,” says Mankani, adding that she and her colleagues try to convince mothers to breastfeed.
However, part of the problem could be that healthcare providers are not doing enough to raise awareness. “Healthcare professionals are the main culprits. Instead of advising new mothers to breastfeed, they help perpetuate the trend of using formula milk. They are given incentives by formula milk companies. Research shows that children delivered in hospitals are more frequently formula fed,” says Dr DS Akram, Founder, Health, Education & Literacy Programme (HELP).
The laws protecting the right of the infant to health and nutrition are there. Lawyer Summaiya Zaidi says that the primary focus of laws like the Protection of Breast-Feeding and Child Nutrition Ordinance 2002 is to protect the nutrition of the child and promote breastfeeding as a primary source of nutrition. After the devolution, each province developed its own Acts for the purpose.
“The Sindh 2013 Act stresses that manufacturing, advertising and sale of alternate sources of child nutrition cannot be promoted as better than mothers’ milk or even compared to it. This stresses the primacy of breast milk as the best source of nutrition for a growing baby, and only when the mother is unable to provide the same to her child should alternatives be made available. It basically controls the manufacture and advertising of child nutrition products by placing certain legal limits on promotion of the same,” says Zaidi.
Yet, the tussle between public health experts and forces of consumerism continue. Companies producing or distributing formula milk refused to give any statement regarding how they justify the tempting advertising campaigns.
At the 69th World Health Assembly earlier this year, a resolution welcomed WHO’s guidance on ending the inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children. The guidance states that in order to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, the marketing of “follow-up formula” and “growing-up milks should be regulated. This recommendation is in line with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
“The laws are there, but the implementation is a distant dream. Formula companies continue to particularly tantalise urban markets,” says Dr Akram, adding that the government does not seem interested in this cause. Dr Akram and her team run the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) of WHO and UNICEF successfully in Pakistan for a few years. “When external funding stopped, the government was not interested in investing in it,” she says, adding that companies that produce formula milk mainly target the urban market to tantalise consumers.
“For the poor population in rural areas, breastfeeding is mostly the only available option. The urban social landscape is more challenging when it comes to breastfeeding. More mothers are working mothers; more options for top feed are available here; more people can afford to buy formula milk. Awareness is needed in both rural and urban areas,” says Dr Sara Salman of WHO Sindh.
According to Mankani, despite trying to raise awareness, most mothers follow popular myths. “They feel the baby is healthier if fed formula, owing to the aggressive marketing of formula milk.”
The biggest challenge for exclusive breastfeeding is the perception that mothers are not producing enough milk and should supplement with formula because the baby cries, says Meredith Jackson-deGraffenried from Helen Keller International. “This perception is driven by the misunderstanding that if the mother is undernourished and poor, she must be incapable of adequately nourishing her baby.”
“We try to teach these women basics about expressing their own milk and how to store it. Mother’s milk stays fine for up to three days in a refrigerator, and up to six hours at room temperature. It’s an economical and healthier option. But myths are hard to fight,” says Mankani.
Despite proven benefits like the mother who breastfeeds return to her pre-pregnancy state much earlier, and the incidence of breast cancer in women who breastfeed being much lower, as Dr Ahsan says, the myths seem to be winning.
“Socially, breastfeeding proves a challenge as well. There are usually no crèche or nursing rooms at work. That’s one reason working mothers stop breastfeeding,” says Dr Ahsan.

Originally published here: http://tns.thenews.com.pk/mother/#.V6hsuPkrLIX

Drought or not, children are dying in Tharparkar, Qaim Ali Shah

The infants may not be dying of hunger, but they have no immunity to fight back any attack of weather and disease, as they are given birth by weak mothers. PHOTO: AFP

Death is a regular visitor at the doors of Tharparkar’s mothers. Within the first 10 days of 2016, 17 children died in just the Mithi area of district Tharparkar in Sindh.

Nothing new.

Between December 2013 and early March 2014, at least 124 lives were lost in Tharparkar, 67 of them at the Civil Hospital Mithi alone. These are just some registered deaths in the most (relatively) developed area of the 20,000 sq km desert comprising the district. And once again, Sindh’s Chief Minister (CM) says these deaths are being exaggerated.

This feels like Déjà vu.

Part of the statement of saeen, as CM Qaim Ali Shah is popularly known as, is probably true – the part that says that the drought is not causing these deaths.

That, Mr CM, should be cause for more concern.

It’s not that the CM and his team are doing nothing about Tharparkar. They form inquiry commissions, send trucks full of wheat, food supplies and medicines, and I am sure they sack a few officials here and there. While all of this can and does help, that help is very temporary.Saeen continues to apply band aid on the wounds of Tharparkar. The wounds inside continue to fester. None of the measures being taken for Tharparkar seem satisfactory and sustainable.

For those who know even a little about the beautiful but desolate Tharparkar know that if at all, the district were in a state of drought, that would be just a miniscule part of its issues.

Consider this.

In March 2014, many reasons for the deaths of the ill-fated children were stated by medical officials at Civil Hospital Mithi. Reasons like sepsis, blood infections, pneumonia, premature births and asphyxia. Why did these children not have even basic medical assistance is the question. Where were the first aid and the tetanus shots that could have helped the kids who died of sepsis? Why were the children not clad warmly enough, and pneumonia killed them? If according to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) director general, the newborns carried infections due to deliveries in unhygienic conditions at their home, why are mothers in Tharparkar still giving births at home? Why are there so many premature births in the first place?

Quoting people working on ground level in Tharparkar, open defecation is one of the major problems that causes up to 80 per cent of diseases reported in the rural areas of Tharparkar. This was shared by social activist Mohammed Siddique Rahimon in December 2015, at an event in Umerkot district where local experts discussed how poor infrastructure, a thin network of basic facilities and open defecation are among the major causes of endemic diseases. Umerkot faces the same predicaments as Tharparkar.

Purchasing substandard and expired medicines and supplying these to patients is another cause of death, according to information shared by Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) that works at grass root level in Tharparkar.

It is no secret that a large proportion of the population in Tharparkar does not have access to clean, uncontaminated and enough water. Water with high levels of arsenic among other contaminants in the merciless desert of Thar, when used for drinking, preparing food and irrigation of crops, cripples and kills those who consume it over long periods of time.

Is that too not the government’s responsibility?

But perhaps the biggest reason of disease and death in Tharparkar is malnourishment of its mothers. CM sahib says that if there was drought and lack of healthcare facilities, then men and women would also have suffered equally. Sir, your team is aware that mothers in Tharparkar give births while their haemoglobin level is as low as four. When the mothers are so anaemic and undernourished, what hope do the children they give birth to have to survive?

The CM is right when he says that the death of these children are largely on account of maternity-related complications and not from hunger or lack of food. But who, I respectfully ask those in-charge of governing Tharparkar, will make sure that maternal mortality is controlled in Tharparkar, and the mother is healthy and strong enough to bear a child? The infants may not be dying of hunger, but they have no immunity to fight back any attack of weather and disease, as they are given birth by weak mothers.

The first step towards solving a problem is recognising it. The problem lies in bad governance and the government not taking ownership of the painful condition of areas that come in its domain. We request those responsible to take note and step up their game for a holistic solution to the problems of Tharparkar and similar areas in Pakistan before more innocent lives are lost.

Why aren’t Pakistani men given paternity leave?

Published: December 6, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan Zuckerberg with daughter Max. PHOTO: AP

“We are pregnant.”  

That is such a wonderful way of announcing the happy news that a couple is expecting a baby. While it is by natural default that the woman is destined to bear the bigger physical brunt by carrying the child to term and going through the delivery ordeal, there is no dearth of good daddies who take pride and ownership in the role.

The more evolved men of today take the paternal instinct very seriously. They are involved in active parenting. And so many of them – like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – want to spend some uninterrupted time with their new-born. The purpose is multi-fold: help the mother, bond with the baby in what is perhaps the most inexplicably beautiful time of a parent’s life, and play your part in arguably the most important job life has given you. Yet, not every daddy-to-be owns Facebook, or works in companies that show such empathy.

Facebook employees are lucky; soon after Zuckerberg said he would take two months of paternity leave, the social media company announced that it is extending its parental leave policy to full-time employees outside the US.

Now that Zuckerberg’s daughter, Max, has arrived, he has given her a beautiful welcome by committing 99 per cent of the Facebook shares to charity. He even wrote a letter to his new-born baby girl where he vows to change the world by eliminating inequality and giving every child a chance at education.

While critics may call it “philanthrocapitalism” and worry about the shares currently valued at $45 billion, it is a heart-warming welcome nonetheless. But for the daughter, the two months daddy is taking off from work may go a longer way.

Looking at international labour laws, maternity leave is finally and thankfully given due importance. But paternity leave is a classic case of reverse discrimination, where we see the gender gap tilting in favour of the woman. While due to physical reasons, maternity leave is unavoidable, the paternity leave debate needs to be fuelled yet again. Zuckerberg may have given the subject the much needed impetus.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines the leave as,

“A leave period – paid or unpaid – reserved for fathers in relation to childbirth or leave that can be used exclusively by fathers as paternity leave. It does not include parental leave provisions that can be used by the father or mother or parts of maternity leave entitlements that the mother can transfer to the father. It includes ‘special leave’ provisions in addition to annual leave that may be used by fathers at the time of birth, but which are not strictly ‘paternity leave’.”

An ILO study released last year shows that in addition to maternity leave legislation, many countries also have measures to support working fathers. Of 167 countries studied, 78 stipulate a statutory right to paternity leave, mostly paid. Yet, leave provisions for fathers vary country and culture wise.

On an ILO map showing paternity leave allowed by law in each country, when one swipes the cursor over Pakistan, the words “0 leaves” pop up. The government of Punjab, earlier in this decade, notified male employees that they could avail a paternity leave up to seven days for a total of two times in their entire service. Many corporate houses all over Pakistan allow leave on the same pretext.

The days of paternity leave are still too little and the subject is not discussed enough, yet there is a definitely encouraging upswing trend of more involved fatherhood. More and more fathers wholeheartedly and lovingly take part in changing diapers, preparing the baby’s feeds and walking around with the baby on their shoulder till he/she has burped. Parenting is a joy shared by two, from babyhood to your child’s adulthood. It is time that fathers get some time off legitimately when this journey starts for them.

Pakistan’s legislators and policy makers, are you listening?

Originally published here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30678/is-paternity-leave-a-classic-case-of-reverse-discrimination-thank-you-mark-zuckberg-for-standing-up-for-father-to-be/

Kasur child pornography: Knowing the difference between resistance and consent

Published: August 10, 2015

One official has called it “the largest child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history.” PHOTO: REUTERS

I don’t curse. But this is a rare occasion where I would love to abuse the perpetrators of the Kasur children’s sexual abuse atrocity in the vilest possible terms. However, here’s the thing about cursing – If I curse, I would end up using words that revile their mothers, sisters, and use the same pile of filth in words that they actually went and committed by use of force, intoxication and blackmailing.

So I would only be furthering the same thought process, where sex is connected with a position of power.  People who curse using sexual terminology are played into feeling a sense of control, and it allows one to vent unrestrictedly. In a twisted and mutated way, so does rape or molesting a child. So no, cursing will not help. We have to come up with something better. Understanding how child sexual abuse is happening in a society where the Youtube blocks have clearly not mitigated paedophilia, leave alone pornography, some things needs to be understood.

This particular incident is so painful and sensitive that we have re-evaluated each word we are using. Scandal, for example, is a wrong word to use here, because it can be used for rumour or gossip. This incident is no rumour it happens to be a real wound that will remain etched in the Pakistani nation’s collective memory. One must also not compare the criminals with animals, because such brutality is rare among animals.

All I can do is pray earnestly that may they be punished without an iota of compassion shown to them, may they be made a bad example of, and may they burn in the lowest depths of hell.

Yet, just condemning them to hell is not enough. Some 500 abused children, 15 accused (the youngest of them is allegedly just 14-years-old), seven FIRs, and a judicial probe order later, have we learnt anything about the monstrosity that child sexual abuse is? This had been going on for years! Black mailing, cover ups, a silent town. The details will keep emerging as the story unfolds, and we may never know what the exact truth is.

These children were in big numbers, and numbers jolt us awake, albeit temporarily. But what about what happens around us?

Have we seen the number of street children in Karachi alone, and do we realise that each one of them is sexually molested within days of being initiated onto the open roads?

Which one of us has not come across stories of children being molested sexually?

The accused, for whom we all are praying for eternal damnation, are from among us. Sexual abuse at a tender age rewires the brain in mysterious ways. Every child who has undergone this trauma suffers from neurobiological, as well as long-term psychological effects. Each case will be different, as will how the child, even when a grown adult, processes it.

But the scar will remain. For some, the long-term impacts may be milder but debilitating– like deep-rooted psychiatric disorders, depression, anxiety, failed relationships, inherently low self-esteem, use of sex as a means of feeling better about themselves, and irresponsible decisions when it comes to sexual activity. For others, it might be an aversion to sex and prudish behaviour for a long time. In a worst case scenario, he/she who was once the victim, is now the perpetrator.

Pakistan, fortunately, still has a social system where very few will agree with post-modernist and other theories, where childhood is not considered the age of innocence. An example is what was said in the California Childhood Sensuality Circle, by its main figure Valida Davila, in 1981:

“We believe children should begin sex at birth”.

A legal minor, or a child, is a child, not yet in a position where he or she can make an informed decision about entering into such activity. While the law of Pakistan agrees with this, and whether the child resisted or not, considers it statutory rape when a minor is sexually molested, not everyone in society agrees.

I came across a recent case, and this is factual, where a 12-year-old girl was raped by a man in his 40s. The two had been interacting and chatting as they lived in the same neighbourhood. Even after the rape was proven and the man confessed, people of the neighbourhood and the girl’s own relatives were heard saying

“It was not really rape as she is a very tez (conniving) girl and was having an affair with him; she never resisted”.

The child was a curious 12-year-old with raging hormones, not a consenting adult.

The difference must be understood in the backdrop of the Kasur incident, because now that the entire community knows which children were sexually abused and filmed, those films will be run and rerun to see where there were signs of resistance, and where the child seemed to consent. Sadly, but surely, the incident will haunt those 500 young lives and their families in a judgmental society.

Child sexual abuse perpetrators, as psychologists confirm, often befriend the child and develop a comfort level where they do not have to use physical force. Yet, because it is a child in question, it is an unfair equation and abuse of the highest order.

But what is perhaps most worrisome, that there is a market out there, and an avid watcher of these films, who may not be an active paedophile himself, but enjoys the sickening, cheap thrills of watching a helpless child being forced into the act.

This is an unsafe, bad, bad world. In your community, watch out for any suspicious activity, and report it, whether it is your child or someone else’s. Protect your child at all costs, especially when at a formative, unripe age where the child cannot distinguish between right and wrong. Do not trust anyone with your child. And if you happen to know someone who was a victim, stop judging that person. Most importantly, seek help, both psychological and legal.

May the Kasur incident be the last of its kind. And may we have learnt some lessons to protect our children.

Child Labour – Extinguishing Young Dreams

Originally published in the monthly “Women’s Own”.
By Farahnaz Zahidi

We see the horrific details of atrocities committed against child labourers on media, but we want to switch the channel and move on to something more entertaining. Yet, as conscientious civilians, it is our responsibility to be aware and spread awareness, and for beginners stop snuffing out underprivileged children’s childhood by making them our servants.

Parveen's Children - Hoping for a better life

His father is a labourer, his mother a maid scouring floors for the rich and famous. He is barely 12, but touch his hands and the coarseness is like that of grown man’s. Something about his facial expressions makes him look eerily grown up….as if a withered soul is encased in a child’s body, though his stature is much smaller than his peers, due to malnourishment. He no longer dreams of going to school; there is a resigned acceptance in his eyes about his today and tomorrow. He works as a domestic helper in a saab’s house. He is more trained to respond to words like chokra, ae larkay, chotey and a plethora of abuses, rather than his name. His day starts early and ends late. He earns a meager Rs. 3000, but keeps hearing taunts that he isn’t worth this much. He is titled sly, street smart…..titles that are true….titles that are descriptive of what this job since the age of 8 has taught him. We needn’t know his name. He is just another child labourer of Pakistan….one of the many shoved into the work field at too tender an age.

Horrific stories of the exploitation and violation of children who are made to work surface time and again. They are an unaccounted for, invisible part of the world’s, and Pakistan’s, workforce Staggering statistics tell us that over 132 million children aged 5-14 years old work in agriculture – up to 70 per cent of all working children. Many are exploited in homes, in orphanages, on streets, in slums, in refugee camps and war zones, in detention, and in fields and factories. One such recent story is of the alleged murder of thirteen year old housemaid Shazia Masih, who worked as a maid for a former president of Lahore Bar Association. The autopsy of Shazia Masih tells horrendous details of the marks of physical torture on her body. Shazia’s case has triggered discussion on not just the issue of child labour, but also protection of rights of minorities. But is it enough that leaders and politicians promise that justice will be meted out, and that a compensatory payment is made to the family in return for a priceless loss? It is time that the Pakistani law defines the rights of the child and these laws are enforced.

A “child” is defined in Pakistan as a person younger than fifteen and the legal minimum age for employment is 14 for shops and commerce, industry, and work at sea, and 15 for mines and on railways. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan prohibits slavery, forced labor, the trafficking in human beings, and employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or any hazardous employment. The Factories Act 1934 prohibits under-14 employment in factories, the Mines Act 1923 in mines and the Shops & Establishments Ordinance 1969 in offices and restaurants. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989. The scope of this convention extends to persons up to the age of 18. Pakistan has ratified this Convention in 1990. Article 32 of CRC reads “State Parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”. This landmark treaty guarantees children the right to be free from discrimination, to be protected in armed conflicts, to be protected from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, to be free from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, to receive age-appropriate treatment in the justice system, and to be free from economic exploitation and other abuses, among other rights.

ILO’s Minimum Age Convention 138 was adopted by ILO in 1973. It states that minimum age for employment may not be set lower than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any event not less than 15 years (initially 14 years in the case of developing countries). Although spirit of this Convention is reflected in several Pakistani laws, it has yet to be formally ratified by the Government of Pakistan.
Yet, how many of us reading stories about child labour can testify that a child has never been employed in our homes? In a write-up in “Dawn” (dated 27th January 2010), Anees Jillani writes, “Millions of households all over the country are employing children under the age of 18. Are they not all guilty of the same crime, although many continue to justify it on the grounds of helping a poor child? Child labour is generally legally permissible in the country, due to major loopholes in the relevant legislation. Employment of all children in the age group of 14 to 18 years is allowed in all sectors whether formal or informal.”

The reasons why children are popular choices as domestic servants and labourers are the following:

• The remuneration given to them is much lesser than grown-ups and so they are a much cheaper commodity
• Any complains they voice either to their parents, employers or law enforcers are not taken seriously. As such, they mostly cannot protect themselves against the inhumane treatment they are subjected to
• Children are quicker in learning and grasping menial tasks and are more active
• They are often forced by their parents and families, on the pretext of poverty, to slog as something similar to bonded labour

We justify employing children as labour by saying that they get a better quality of life, more security and food in our homes as compared to their own homes. Yet, are we honestly making efforts to send them to school? Do they eat like our children and enjoy that afternoon nap? Do they get a chance to enjoy physical recreation like normal children? The economic disparity that the poor witness when working in our homes builds up pent up anger in them. As adults they grow into bitter people, harbouring enmity against the affluent. Nothing justifies usurping the right of a child to education, health and security. It is time that the laws are revised and enforced to protect the rights of the child, and the perpetrators of crimes against children are taken to task, so that the Shazia Masihs of this nation are not violated in the future.