An alarming 3,832 children were abused in Pakistan during 2018, according to NGO Sahil’s annual report ‘Cruel Numbers 2018’. According to Sahil’s research 2,094 girls and 1,738 boys have been survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation. On average, 10 children are abused daily. Experts believe that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg as generally people do not report cases for various reasons. Sahil’s report is based on monitoring of 85 national and regional newspapers so these are only reported case of child abuse.

An estimated 1.2 million children are on the streets of Pakistan’s major cities and urban centres. Besides, another 3.3 million children were working, out of which 73 per cent were boys and 27 per cent were girls, according to the official survey conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Labour in collaboration with International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1996. Earlier this year the brutal torture of employers of their 16-year-old child domestic worker ‘Uzma’ caught media’s attention. The girl was then found lying dead in a drain in the city. All this was done in a posh area of Lahore.

Child labour in the domestic sphere is a common occurrence in many countries of the world and Pakistan is no exception. However, in recent years, individual stories have appeared in the media that highlight serious abuse of minor domestic workers. These stories have focused attention on the issue of child domestic work in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, as a society, we have accepted these blatant violations of child rights and are immune to such barbaric acts of violence against children. Civil society keeps highlighting such issues but the state has failed to appreciate the seriousness of the situation and react. We should strongly condemn the phenomena of child domestic labour, child abuse, child sexual abuse, corporal punishment, child trafficking and child marriages and work together as a society to protect our children and promote their rights.

The government and the civil society should join hands to create widespread awareness among children, parents and caregivers and teach children to be assertive. Awareness about how to protect oneself from abuse should be included in the curricula in a culturally sensitive manner. Similarly, the media can play a vital role in coordination with the civil society and the government for creating widespread awareness. Culturally and religiously appropriate material can be produced and taught as mandatory in schools. The national media in most of the world has youth- and children-focused channels which are missing in Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan should take such an initiative and create awareness among children and youth. Furthermore, schools can also play a major role in spreading awareness about child rights in general and child sexual abuse in particular.

To protect our children and promote their rights and strengthen child protection system in Pakistan where each individual child is safe from abuse and exploitation, the Ministry and Human Rights together with Child Rights Movement (CRM) Pakistan and other key stakeholders including parliamentarians, provincial governments and bodies, the media, UN agencies, civil society, communities, families and above all children themselves should launch a national campaign ‘Pakistanis Against Child Abuse’ to work together as a nation for the protection and promotion of child rights in the country.

The ultimate goal of the ‘Pakistan Against Child Abuse’ movement should be to mobilise communities, parents, local leaders, faith leaders, families, social media activists and individuals across Pakistan to stand against all forms of child abuse. All Pakistanis need to be part of this campaign and to be committed to ensuring a safer Pakistan for our children and put the safety and wellbeing of our children first. All Pakistanis should actively participate to ensure success of such campaigns on a national level.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2019.