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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.

World Pneumonia Day: Saving lives with cell phones

By Farahnaz Zahidi / Creative: Munira Abbas
Published: November 12, 2013

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Pneumonia claims an innocent child’s life every 30 seconds, making it the number one cause of childhood mortality. DESIGN: MUNIRA ABBAS

KARACHI: As she steps out of a small grocery store in Korangi, she is carrying her nine-month-old baby in one hand and bags of grocery worth Rs300 in the other. Her baby is pneumonia free and she is one of the lucky mothers who have more than one incentive to ensure her baby gets regular vaccinations at Karachi’s Indus Hospital.

In this part of Pakistan, cell phone technology is being put to good use, often ending up saving precious lives. Under the “Save Life – Zindigi Mehfooz Hai” programme by Interactive Research and Development (IRD), a system has been set up to not just treat children with pneumonia, but track them and their progress by using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

In a country where reportedly some 92,000 children under-five die annually of pneumonia, which contributes to 18 % of the total child deaths in Pakistan, this is good news indeed. It is also encouraging that there is no refusal by parents of children when it comes to the pneumonia vaccine. “We have immunised 15,000 children in the last one year in Korangi alone, and not had a single instance of refusal,” says a proud Dr Subhash Chandir, director of vaccines program at IRD. The Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) was introduced in Pakistan’s Extended Programme on Immunization in October 2012. “What fundamentally changed the game in Pakistan was not medical advancement but the fact that the price of vaccines came down,” says Dr Aamir Khan, IRD’s executive director , adding that a big part of the solution lies in social business models.

This use of RFID technology started with small water-proof, rugged looking bracelets given to children, which were scanned by assigned health practitioners to get a medical history of the child. Now, a small chip is placed within a sticker on the child’s vaccination card. Through that the child’s progress is tracked and reminder texts are sent. “Apnay phool jaisay bachay ki hifazat karain. Jamal Khan ka agla hifazati teeka aaj lagna hai (Protect your flower-like child, Jamal Khan’s next vaccine is due today).” Standardised texts like these serve as reminders.

To incentivise it further, a “lottery” is set-up whereby one in five mothers with children under the vaccination program may win grocery.

Pneumonia claims an innocent child’s life every 30 seconds, making it the number one cause of childhood mortality in the world. In the 2010 World Health Assembly, a resolution on the prevention and control of childhood pneumonia was passed. The UN MDG 4 states that childhood mortality should be reduced by two-thirds from 1990 to 2015. However, even now, globally an estimated 22 million infants are not fully immunised with routine vaccines.

The PCV vaccine costs around Rs1500 for Pakistan, but people can get their children vaccinated for free. The Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine was introduced in Pakistan even earlier.

Unicef shared with The Express Tribune that “The World Pneumonia Day serves as a call to action for parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers to ensure that infants are fully immunised against all vaccine-preventable diseases. Immunisation prevents between 2 and 3 million deaths globally every year by protecting against the nine deadly diseases of the childhood including pneumonia under 5 years of age.”

While the vaccines are there, they don’t seem to be reaching all Pakistani children who deserve to be vaccinated. “We have a grudge. We are pumping vaccines into a broken system. What needs to be corrected is vaccine delivery,” says Dr Khan. He feels routine immunisation needs to be strengthened, and it is wasteful to introduce new expensive vaccines into a system which is unable to deliver them.

Dr Chandir goes on to explain that the reasons include issues with the “Cold Chain”. Vaccines have to be stored at certain temperatures, but by the time they reach children, they may have lost their effectiveness. “EPI may have a network of vaccinators but often doesn’t have its people in strong positions at district levels. The human resource may not be enough, or is, may be, not being used effectively.”

“It is a crime because it is a right of these children to be protected against these diseases. Usually media stories focus on the vaccines — and not on the system. We need a better system in the country,” says Dr Khan.

Facts about the disease

• More than 99% of deaths in children due to pneumonia occur in the developing world, with half occurring in five countries – India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

• Only 61% of children with pneumonia are reportedly taken to a qualified health practitioner in developing countries.

• Globally, pneumonia kills more children under five than any other illness.

• Infants not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die due to pneumonia than those who are.

• Using a clean cook stove results in a 50% reduction in the risk of a child contracting pneumonia.

Source: World Pneumonia Day website

Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2013.

Identity crisis: For lack of a surname

Published: August 25, 2013
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Thousands of children can’t go to school because they do not know their father’s name.

LAHORE: A few rays of sunlight creep into in a small, dark room hit earlier by a spell of load-shedding. In this room, one of two that form part of a makeshift school, 9-year-old *Akmal sits on a rickety desk with a second-hand Urdu qaaida.

This is perhaps his first encounter with a book. One of the many vulnerable children born to commercial sex workers in Shahi Mohalla Lahore, his reason for never having been to school is not just poverty. The reason is darker and more complicated. Akmal does not know his father’s name and so does not have a B form.

Thousands of Akmals are unknown, unregistered and invisible. Registration laws are a tightened noose not just for the children of sex workers but also orphaned or abandoned children, making options of a better life limited for them.

“I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” says the naive boy. In absence of a legal identity, the probability is less that he will be able to go beyond the initial Jugnu Literacy Program taught at this small centre in the infamous Heera Mandi. “We have been trying to sensitize nearby public schools to admit these children so that they have a chance at a better life. But in absence of a B form and with the stigma attached, they are not readily accepted,” says Lubna Tayyab, founder of the NGO called SHEED running the small program, herself born and bred in Shahi Mohalla.

“Since generations, women of my family have been in the flesh trade. I don’t want my daughter to have the same life. If she doesn’t get an education, how will she get out of here?” says *Samina, a sex worker and mother of three.

Of identity and crisis

“Unregistered children, whether of commercial sex workers or otherwise, can be at a highly disadvantageous position in several ways, especially those belonging to socially excluded communities.

They don’t figure in government planning. For all developmental purposes such as education, health and social welfare services, without birth registration and due to the inordinate delays in census, most government planners are unaware of certain population groups and demographic changes, thus, they are more likely to miss out on social services,” says Sohail Abbasi, Child Protection Specialist, Unicef.

As Abbasi rightly points out, without birth registration, these children lack credible identity and age determination.

The children who come into conflict with law, or are trafficked internally or externally, or are married at an early age, or are exposed to hazardous labour will all face difficulties as they cannot legally prove their identity and/or age. A similar fate awaits unregistered children claiming their rightful inheritance or facing custody determination by a court of law.

“The government links certain services, such as, admission in schools, issuance of domiciles, proof of citizenship and later CNICs, with birth registration. Therefore, children without legal identity and determination of age are in a highly disadvantageous position,” points out Abbasi.

NADRA’s version and the way forward

The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) says that it has facilitated registration of such children at a policy level and eased the condition of providing a guardianship certificate.

On a Rs20 affidavit, NADRA says, any supposed name of parentage can be given by the orphanage/guardian so that the same may be entered in the father/mother field. For this NADRA acquired  fatwas from Saudi Arabia and Iran which support the idea of giving any supposed name (which cannot be called a fake name), giving the benefit of doubt that the names cited are indeed of the father/mother or guardian of the child. No birth certificate is required from abandoned or fatherless children for registration with NADRA.

NADRA encourages orphanages to register themselves with the authority. They have so far 31 orphanages that are registered with them, and as per their given record there are 6,045 children residing in these orphanages.

Through these orphanages these children can apply for issuance of CNIC/NICOP/CRC. Recently, NADRA chairman has also ordered the issuance of SMART cards (free of charge) to these children.

The answer, then, may very well lie with policymakers to not just facilitate registration of every Pakistani citizen but also work on sensitisation of masses so that they realise the importance of becoming registered citizens and not unnumbered just shadows lurking in the dark.

*Names changed to protect identities.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/594930/identity-crisis-for-lack-of-a-surname/

Preventable deaths: Pakistan continues to lose 60,000 babies annually

Published: May 9, 2013

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For Pakistan’s rural population, the major reason of infant mortality is the absence of functional health facilities, says Dr Ramesh Kumar. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

KARACHI: On a hot summer afternoon, a two-year-old sits in his paternal aunt’s lap in a remote village in Tharparkar district. He is too weak and malnourished to brush off the fly that sits on his face. The child would pass for a six-month-old. “His mother and newborn baby sister died three months ago, because the mother had prolonged labour, and with no transport, they died before they could be taken to a proper medical facility,” says the aunt. Some 25 women squatting on the floor start sharing their stories of loss. Every mother has a story to tell – stories of deaths that could have been easily prevented.

Pakistan’s human loss at the hands of neglect of public health is often trivialised when juxtaposed with causes that make headlines. But here’s a headline that should make us think: 60,000 Pakistani babies die every year on the first day of life. Pakistan has the highest first day mortality rate for babies in Asia, making it the most dangerous place in the region to be born, “Save the Children” says. The children’s aid agency launched its 14th annual State of the World’s Mothers report on May 7, revealing that 1-in-77 Pakistani babies die in their first day of life, making up 17 per cent of all under-five deaths in the country.

The report compares 176 countries around the globe, with regards to lives of mothers and their children. Pakistan ranked 139th on the best places to be a mother, based on factors such as mother’s health, education and economic status, as well as critical child indicators such as health and nutrition. It came in ahead of neighbours India and Afghanistan, but trailed behind Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

“The number of newborn deaths in Pakistan is unacceptably high. About 1-in-28 babies in Pakistan do not live past the first month of life, making Pakistan one of 10 countries accounting for nearly two-thirds of the three million newborn deaths that take place globally every year,” said David Skinner, country director for Save the Children in Pakistan. “Pakistan also has the highest number of stillborn babies in the region, at 1-in-23, many of which are preventable.”

“For Pakistan’s 70 per cent rural population, the major reason for the alarming rates of infant mortality is the absence of functional health facilities,” says Dr Ramesh Kumar, health coordinator of the Participatory Village Development Programme (PVDP), which works closely with local communities in Sindh on health and development. “Malnourished mothers are the reason why babies are born with low birth weight and often don’t survive,” added Dr Ramesh.

Low-cost solutions could dramatically reduce newborn mortality. Proper cord care and newborn/paediatric doses of antibiotics can be life-savers. A simple disinfectant like chlorhexidine, if used for cord cleansing, could prevent umbilical cord and belly button infections that can be fatal for newborns.

A simple, low cost corticosteroid injection given to women in preterm labour can save a child by helping mature the baby’s lungs. Yet, its availability is often a luxury for women for who even clean water and anti-bacterial soaps are a rarity.

Traditional birth attendants (TBAs) if trained and given proper support and supplies can save lives of thousands of mothers and babies. This is what PVDP does with its TBA training programme. “We give TBAs little ‘safe delivery kits’ that are life savers with simple yet indispensable things like gloves for the midwife, a plastic sheet to spread under the woman to avoid contact with soil, a sterile blade etc,” says Dr Ramesh.

However the most basic and underlying cause of newborn mortality remains gender inequality which translates into malnutrition of the mother. Physically, financially and socially stronger mothers would mean a better chance at life for babies.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/546368/preventable-deaths-pakistan-continues-to-lose-60000-babies-annually/