By Sidrah Roghay
Perched on a wall, which separates Lines Area from the signal-free corridor in front of Mazar-e-Quaid, 11-year-old Bilal fiddles with his broken shoe. He bobs his head multiple times to indicate that he has agreed to talk, but then suddenly he jumps off the three-foot wall and disappears. A few seconds later, he returns with an army of boys his size.
Of the twelve or so boys, some go to school, others are dropouts and some contribute to the family income. Bilal is one such boy. He had three sisters: one died of high fever when she was two while the others are older than him and work as domestic servants — so does his divorced mother.
In the run-down locality, divorce is a social taboo. “His father left his big fat mom,” a boy points his finger at him and laughs. But Bilal is not someone who would take this lightly, he swears back.
Hunain is another boy in the group. He stands out from the rest — dresses well and spits like a grown-up man every few seconds. The others jump like popcorns, and yell that he belongs to a banned religious group. “I am a worker there, I attend their rallies, and do as my elders tell me,” he reveals as he shares that his father does not know about his affiliation.
It is just a sneak peek, but it may well be the tale of every other lower-middle class locality in the city.
The 20th of every November is marked by the United Nations as Universal Children’s Day. The idea is to promote ideals and objectives of the ‘Convention on the Rights of Child and Declaration of the Rights of Child’, which demand free education, health and safety for children around the world.
Pakistan, however, fails to protect its most vulnerable citizens. The country has been a signatory of the Millennium Development Goals, which vow to improve child rights, among other things.
Though after the 18th Amendment, Article 25(a) was introduced – which granted the right to free education as a fundamental right – the state of education in Pakistan is lamentable.
In March 2011, the report Education Emergency Pakistan came out, which stated that the condition of education in the country had reached an emergency status. It revealed that there were zero percent chances that the government would achieve the Millennium Development by 2015 of 100 percent literacy at the primary level.
The UN human development index reveals that out of 206 countries Pakistan ranks 141st in terms of illiteracy and enrollment in schools.
In the health sector, the facts provide a bleak picture too. The figures for 2010 state that out of every 1,000 newborns, 89 die. Though the figures of death at birth are decreasing gradually, the decreasing rate is very slow.
While polio has become a disease unheard of in the developed nations, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society includes Pakistan in twenty other countries where the disease is still prevalent. One of the reasons is the militants’ propaganda that there were contraceptives in the polio drops and that it was an American conspiracy to reduce the Muslim population.
An article appeared on November 4, 2011, in the British newspaper Guardian which revealed how as a counter strategy Maulvis were being asked to deny the propaganda by the militants and encourage people to get their babies vaccinated.
This is a country where every year thousands of children die of preventable illnesses, like malaria, diarrhea and measles.
And when it comes to the safety and security of children, there are serious loopholes in the law. Corporal punishment continues to be practised, and a missing child is not a cognizable offence, which means the police do not investigate the cases.
According to a study by Roshni Helpline, an NGO dealing specifically with cases of missing children, the police note down names of missing children in a daily diary known as Roznamcha, or in a register where all other routine matters like lost ID cards are put.
“A simple announcement is made over the wireless which reaches all police mobiles, and that is the end of it,” says Mohammad Ali, President Roshni Helpline.
Most of the missing children go on to become victims of begging, prostitution and human trafficking.