Separated as an independent state in 1947 from British India, on the basis of Muslim nationhood, Pakistan itself was divided in 1971 when, after a war, the biggest ethnic group formed Bangladesh. Pakistan is diverse in linguistic and cultural identities.1 The country is composed of four provinces: Islamabad Capital, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and two federally administered tribal areas.2 The tribal areas are autonomous, governed by tribal councils and village leaders.3 Pakistan has a population of nearly 170 million people; almost half are children.4 The Human Development Index (HDI) for Pakistan is 0.490, which gives the country a rank of 125 out of 182 countries.5
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the Kashmir territory and the dispute is still ongoing.6 Pakistani government and military leaders are struggling to control domestic insurgents, many of whom are located in the tribal areas adjacent to the border with Afghanistan.7 The intensification of violence, conflict and terrorism within Pakistan in the last few years is significantly affecting the overall human rights situation. Major problems include extrajudicial killings, torture, disappearances and religious freedom violations.8 Rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and abuse against women are other serious problems.9 Non-state militant groups kidnap children or coerce parents to give away children as young as 12 to fight or die as suicide bombers.10 The militants often sexually and physically abuse the children.11
Though Pakistan’s economy has grown by more the 6.5 percent per year since 200312, one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.13 Fuelled by the high prices of food and rising unemployment, an alarming trend of parents abandoning their children is emerging in Pakistan.14 Still, an average poor family will have many children, partly because social taboos prevent them from using contraception.15 In 2008, the Edhi Welfare Trust (EWT) said it rescued approximately 30 infants each month from dumpsters and recovered over 100 dead babies.16 They reported that, since 1970, they had recovered 68,000 dead infants from garbage dumps. Of the infants abandoned or killed, 98% were girls.17 More than 70% of the children in Pakistan are not registered at birth, especially girls, children belonging to religious or minority groups, refugee children, and children living in rural areas.18
Natural disasters, conflict, economic crises and political turmoil have increased the vulnerability of thousands of children.19 In 2008 and 2009, military operations, floods and earthquakes displaced some 2 million people, 65% of them children.20 Internally displaced children are facing serious socioeconomic deprivation, especially limited access to shelter, healthcare, and education.21
A Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) report, The State of Pakistan’s Children 2009, finds that increasing poverty is pushing more children into child labour, and the low and inefficiently spent education budget is decreasing opportunities for children to access to education.22 Primary education in Pakistan is characterised by low enrolment and high dropout rates.23 Additionally, Taliban militants have destroyed hundreds of schools, mostly girls’ schools, in the northwest region of the country.24 Since 2003, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone, 400 public schools were attacked.25 In rural areas, more than a third of children do not complete primary education.26 Instead of attending school many children work, particularly boys.27 The prevalence of child labour is extremely high and has increased in recent years due to growing poverty.28 According to SPARC, an estimated 8 million children are currently working in Pakistan.29 The necessity to work takes many away from their homes, often to cities where they have little protection.30
The combination of poverty, inadequate education, extensive child labour and children’s low status in society creates a situation that is highly conducive to child sexual abuse and exploitation. Girls are especially affected as cultural attitudes may impede them attending school. Serious discrimination against girls is attested by the acute gender differentials in infant mortality rates, school enrolment rates, domestic violence affecting girls and the prevalence of early marriages and exchange of girls for debt settlement.31 Some children are at increased risk of being sexually abused and exploited, such as street children, refugee children, working children, especially those working in small hotels, restaurants, and in the transport industry and bus terminals.32
Information compiled by the Human Right Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) found large-scale abuse of child rights. An alarmingly large number of children were also reported to have been murdered and raped according to the NGO, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA).33 For the year 2008, Sahil, an Islamabadbased NGO, reported 1,838 official cases of child sexual abuse, revealing that boys are as vulnerable as girls and that the age group that is most vulnerable to sexual abuse is 11 to15 years.34
Sahil regularly monitors child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan, but it is not easy to document the actual incidence of child sexual abuse or CSEC. The official numbers reflect a percentage of the actual situation since, in most cases, the abuse is never reported.35 If it is reported, the age of the child is often concealed.36 Despite awareness-raising and sensitization projects, negative societal attitudes towards children often mean that, even when these cases are reported, police do not systematically intervene.37 Until recently, the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation was not accepted as a problem in Pakistani society.38 The common perception was that, being a nation following Islamic ideals, the society was immune to immorality and, even if there was a problem of CSEC, its magnitude was very small.39 Research has been recently conducted on sexually abused and exploited children by the National Commission for Child Welfare and Development (NCCWD) in collaboration with United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).40 Save the Children Sweden also conducted a situation analysis of CSEC in Pakistan.41
In 2009 SPARC reported that, due to social factors, commercial sexual activity is an underground phenomenon, but its existence is well known and acknowledged by many sectors of the society.42 The US Department of State’s, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, also found that child abuse, widespread trafficking and CSEC are serious concerns.43 Unfortunately, in Pakistan, there is no mandated system of reporting child exploitation and abuse.
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