Missing Children: A Wake Up Call for Society
Roshni Helpline and Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) jointly organized a seminar “Missing Children: A Wakeup Call for Society?” on 8th November, 2012 in Islamabad. Highlighting the issue of ‘Missing Children’, the speakers have called to devise, strengthen and sensitize state response mechanism and educate society to secure and protect missing Pakistani children. They said, thousands of children go missing every year in Pakistan but still it is the least acknowledged issue due to lack of understanding and information.
The participants were told that missing child is defined as ‘any child under 18 years of age that go out of contact with family’. Hence missing children include children who lost their way home, runaway kids who escaped abuse or unhappy homes, abandoned by families, lost during travel, or abducted by criminals for ransom, begging, bonded labour or sexual trafficking. These missing children are subjected to worst kind of torture, sexual abuse, exploitation and labour.
Eminent Anchor and Director World Affairs, Pakistan Television Dr Moeed Pirzada chaired the proceedings. He was of the view that severity of situation demands sensitizing all stakeholders including the society as a whole and where media can play positive role in drawing attention and educating so that our kids are secured at homes, madrassa’s, and on the streets. He appreciated the Roshni Helpline efforts for missing children and also ensured that their channel and his program will give coverage to highlight the issue and bring awareness among public.
Speaking at the occasion, Fazal Noor, Urban Specialist UN Habitat Pakistan and country rep Ashoka Foundation, USA said that the country needs a proper system of search and rescue of missing children beside social entrepreneurships and civic education of the society. He also advised parents to take picture of their kids very year to be used in such misfortune situations where picture ID is the only source of identification for small children.
Umer Daraz, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF also spoke at session. He highlighted the issue of missing, separated and unaccompanied children during emergencies. He emphasized on birth certificate of children and further elaborated the importance in the context of child protection. He also explained that UNICEF role is strengthening the child protection system in Pakistan.
Muhammad Ali, President Roshni Helpline talked of lack of understanding and low response from law enforcement agencies and shared his observation that police handles missing children’s case as a non-cognizable offence and most of the times refuse to lodge an FIR and just submit a kachi report. He said, police officers are least educated about child rights, its related laws, modern techniques and standard operating procedures to handle the cases of missing children and even often don’t treat missing children as a crime.
Faryal Gohar, famous actor and social activist discussed insecurities and domestic violence that sometime contribute to missing of children. She also lamented state, which she said has failed to provide services, and taken care of basic needs of the people. She appreciated Roshni-SDPI effort for organizing this event. She also added this issue was seriously neglected and now it’s becoming a mainstream issue.
Participants from NGOs, INGOs, Media, University Students and different professions were present during the seminar. Muhammad Anwar, civil society advisor form plan international Pakistan and Shamila Kiyani, Senior Program Officer from “Right to Play” has appreciated the role of Roshni Helpline and given input for the recovery and safety of missing children. Shafqat Munir, Ashoka fellow and founder Info Change News Agency, Aftab Ahmed Awan, National Manager from Society for Sustainable Development were also present in the seminar.
During question answer session participants referred to child rescue and protection mechanisms in other countries and urged to replicate them in Pakistan such as ‘National Response Centre for Missing Children’, standard operating procedures on missing of kids, integration of local mass communication channels for missing child alert, specially trained police officials and prosecutors on crimes against children, and vigilant child watch volunteer community units.