Justice For Pakistan's Children

Violence and abuse against minors is rife in Pakistan. It falls upon the government to undertake serious and systemic reforms in the justice system to ensure that perpetrators are held to account.

Justice For Pakistan's Children

When Pakistan was celebrating its 76th Independence Day on 14th August, a 9-year-old maid named Fatima lost her life due to torture at a haveli in Ranipur, Khairpur District. Fatima’s body was buried without a post-mortem examination. After the video went viral on social media where she could be seen suffering in distress at the employer’s house, public pressure on social media led to police arresting the accused. 

People were still furious and condemning the wife of a civil judge in Islamabad who had tortured a young maid Rizwana, who later on, was granted bail by the court in Islamabad, while Rizwana was still in hospital, undergoing multiple surgeries. 

Fatima’s autopsy report included harrowing details of torture and sexual abuse, Rizwana had also gone through the severe torture and abuse.  Unfortunately, Fatima was not lucky enough to survive the brutalities inflicted upon. There are many commonalities in the cases of Fatima and Rizwana, and many other similar cases: poverty, child labor and chilling patterns of abuse and torture – both at the judge’s house at Islamabad and at the pir’s haveli at Ranipur. Both cases exhibit the how unbridled privilege and power operates in our society. 

Children involved in labor and domestic work in Pakistan are vulnerable to many forms of abuse and violence - physical, sexual, mental and exploitation, including economic exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of child trafficking. 

According to UNICEF, about 3.3 million children in Pakistan are trapped in child labor, depriving them of their childhood, their health and education, and condemning them to a life of poverty. According to a study by The World Bank, nearly 23 million Pakistani children aged five to 16 do not attend school, which is the second largest out-of-school population in the world. 

According to an NGO, Sahil, an average of 12 children per day or one every two hours were subjected to sexual abuse in Pakistan in 2023. Sahil report says a total of 2,227 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the authorities between January and June this year. The data was compiled from newspaper reports, as well as from cases directly reported to them. It said there were 1,207 girls and 1,020 boys in the cases it recorded in 2023. 

The most of the cases of abuse involved children between six and 15. As per the report, “over 47 percent of the cases were reported between this age group and among these, more boys were reported to be sexually abused (593) compared to girls (457).”  

“Almost 75 percent of these cases of child abuse were reported from Punjab, Sindh province had 314 cases while the federal territory of the national capital Islamabad saw 161 cases of child sexual abuse in the first six months of 2023.” 

Girl child marriage is another bitter reality of our society due to abject poverty.  It was estimated that almost a quarter of women aged 20-49 were married before the age of 15, and 31% before eighteen years of age. 

Our Constitution guarantees protection of children: Article 25A of the Constitution says "The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years.” Article 11 of the Constitution prohibits slavery and forced labor. Article 32 further protects the child by prohibiting 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.

Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child 30 years ago, and there are laws on child labor, child protection, and early child marriage but unfortunately, these laws are not being implemented and the child protection case management and referral system has yet not been developed.  Reforms in the police and judiciary are long due, which are the main hindrance in providing justice to younger victims of abuse and violence. The conviction rate in children’s sexual abuse cases is not even 2 percent, and most of these cases are settled by compromise between the two parties due to poverty, lengthy legal processes and delayed court proceedings. 

In this regard, the Sindh Women Lawyers Alliance (SWLA), an alliance of women lawyers across Sindh as a part of its campaign on ending child, labor and abuse, held a provincial dialogue on Justice for Fatima Farriro and protection of children in Pakistan in light of the protection guaranteed under the Constitution and international conventions. The second dialogue was jointly held with Women’s Action Forum, Karachi at Khairpur Mirs.

Key demands in the dialogues were that the parallel justice system, (jirga, private settlements, and pressure for compromise) should be abolished. The Child Protection Commission and child protection units should devise effective district level mechanisms to ensure protection children especially girls, in havelis, and all other workplaces.

Fatima’s case hearing should be held at a fast-track basis and the accused should not be given preferential treatment. Protection of Fatima’s family and witnesses should be ensured by the state.  It was demanded that the government school in Fatima’s village should be renamed as Fatima Furriro School.

The implementation of Witness Protection Act should be ensured. There is a widespread lack of implementation of child protection and child labor laws; there should be mechanism in place down at district level to address the cases of child abuse and child labor. Appropriate budget should be allocated to child protection units, with professionally trained, designated teams in each district. Induction of more women in police at district level who should investigate cases of child abuse and violence against women.

Online FIR and complained management system should be introduced in Sindh. Child Protection Units with basic infrastructure, with appropriate budgets should be established, comprising dedicated team of professional and trained child protection officers and legal officers in every district. Counselling help centers, consisting of professional psychologists, and doctors should be established in child protection units for children victim of abuse and violence. Rehabilitation of children of child labor and sexual abuse should be the government’s responsibility and an integral program for child welfare should be launched with multi-sectoral stakeholders.