A town where parents think twice before sending kids out



What’s worse: finding your missing child’s mutilated body or never finding him at all? For parents living in Mobina Town, Gulshan-e-Iqbal sending their children out has become a nightmare.

Six-year-old Saqib went missing from the neighbourhood on April 7. He went to the market and never returned. His body was found from the bushes, raped and tortured.

At the funeral, his mother could only manage to say: “I have only one child left.” Saqib’s 10-year old sister, visibly angry, screams out words too mature for her age. “Why did they do this to my brother? Get me the culprit, I will cut him into pieces and feed him to the dogs,” she cries.

Women at the funeral say the little boy’s neck had been ripped open due to strangulation.

At some distance, sits another woman, weeping uncontrollably. Her four-year-old daughter, Nisha, went missing three years ago, never to be found. Saqib and Nisha were cousins. “My son came back. I can see his dead body. I can mourn for him,” wails Saqib’s mother. “But what about her? She lives in constant fear,” she points at the crying woman.

None of Nisha’s sisters go to school. They stay in the house all day. “I cannot lose another child,” says their mother.

Nothing new

Missing children are not a new occurrence in Mobina Town. This year alone, five children have already gone missing from the neighbourhood. Three of them turned up dead. Two were never found.

“A paedophile is on the loose in the area. He’s a serial killer. He follows a pattern,” claims one man, who lives in the area.

Last year, a similar case was also reported in Scout Colony, adjacent to Mobina Town. Five-year-old Faiza went to a shop in the neighbourhood and was kidnapped on February 26. A day later, the tortured and raped girl was found dead in Gulzar-e-Hijri.

At the police station

A suspect was caught two days after Saqib’s episode. Police claimed he owned a small shop in the area and had another accomplice, who has not been arrested to date.

“The man admitted during interrogation that he did it for pleasure,” says Faisal Qureshi, a police officer. “The suspect is aged between 25 and 26 years. He lives in the neighbourhood and ran a pakora stall. He admitted kidnapping Saqib and raping him at a ground.”

Later, the man got scared the child will tell others so he strangled him to death and threw his body at a plot in Metroville. Police claim Saqib’s murder is slightly different than others as the killer was less brutal. “Generally such bodies are severely tortured. One girl had her heart gouged out,” a policeman says.

Zafar Iqbal, the Gulshan-e-Iqbal police superintendent, denies more than one case has been reported in Mobina Town. “We only found one body this year and the suspect is under trial.”

The civil society

Muhammad Ali, the head of Roshni Helpline, claims Mobina Town is a “red-zone” to kill and dump bodies of children.

His social welfare organisation, which works on missing children, has recorded three such cases in Gulshan-e-Iqbal this year, out of which one body was recovered. Last year, 10 children went missing in the town. Eight turned up dead.

Madadgar National Helpline chief Zia Awan also expresses serious concerns over the rapid increase in cases of kidnapping and killing children after subjecting them to sexual abuse.

According to the organisation, over 190 children – 128 boys and 74 girls – have gone missing from Karachi from January to March this year. Most of these cases have been reported from the police limits of Mobina Town, Sachal Goth, Mehmoodabad and Sharea Faisal, he says.

Mobina Town and Sachal Goth are located behind the University of Karachi. Usually minors of poor families fall prey to the criminals while playing outside their homes. A child gone missing is not a criminal offence in itself. A police station will not register a case or investigate the issue unless the parent or guardian suspects the child may have been kidnapped.

Roshni Helpline chief Ali, however, terms this “a mere wordplay”. “Most parents are so disturbed when a child goes missing they forget stating their child may have been kidnapped,” he says. “The police use this to their advantage and place the child name in the ‘roznamacha’, where entries for lost things like identity cards and mobile phones are made.”


Playing marbles with bullets


Walid, 10, picks up an empty bullet shell and aims it at a cluster of similar casings that comprise his collection. As the bullet hits its intended target with a loud clink, Walid celebrates with a little dance and then passes another bullet to his friend. It’s his turn now.

Walid lives in Lyari. His collection of bullet shells took genesis during the nine days of police operations in April – days in which gunshots echoed through the streets, and bullets would regularly land inside houses. With no school to go to and ample spare time in hand, the local children soon devised a game to pass the time: playing marbles with bullets.

Just a few days into the operation, there was already a battalion of children each with his or her own personal collection of empty bullets. “I have three,” said an excited four-year-old. Others followed suit, showing off their bounty. But Walid was the clear winner: he had a shopper full of empty shells.

To this day, the success of the Lyari operation in April remains debatable. Hundreds of citizens suffered the end of gun barrels, and almost 50 bystanders, including a seven-year-old child who was crushed by an armoured personnel carrier (APC), lost their lives. Scores were injured.

Saif, an intermediate student, harkens back to the days of the operation. “We didn’t care much about the gunshots. It was the APCs that we were really scared of,” he said with laugh.

His friend chimes in, “We would run inside the house every time an APC came, and would reappear as soon as it left.”

The operation has now long since ended, and the children are back at school. Yet, an entire generation has grown up seeing some of the worst forms of violence; so much violence that bullets have become mere toys, and aerial firing the norm.

“Such experiences have two types of psychological affects on children – latent and manifest,” explains Ilahi Bux, a regional programme manager for the Strengthening Participatory Organisation.

“The younger ones, six years and below, were scared. Most would break into tears upon hearing a gunshot. Some are still too scared to step out. My six-year- old daughter, for example, is still scared to go on the roof.”

He believes that for the older children, those aged 10 and above, the effects will be more permanent. “For instance, the use of toy guns on roads has increased. They sometimes begin to idolise violence and think of it as a way of life.”

a group of children flaunt their collection of bullets