Risk reduction strategies required to minimize violence against children
By Amir Murtaza
A cursory look of Pakistani newspapers and television channels clearly tells that violence against children is increasing very rapidly in our society. Within a last couple of week, the print and electronic media have reported a number of murder and rape cases against children, both boys and girls. Additionally, some innocent children, even as young as ten or eleven, have either committed or attempted suicide due to physical or emotional violence against them. Unfortunately, in a large majority of child violence cases the perpetrator of the crime is either a blood relative or close acquaintance to the children.
The establishment of Child Protections Units (CPUs), Child Helplines and similar initiatives are definitely commendable steps taken by the government and non-governmental organizations to protect the children in the country. However, the magnitude of the problem requires more coordinated efforts from government and non-governmental organizations on urgent basis to prevent violence, especially in poor and marginalized communities. In addition to primary prevention programs; it is essentially required that GOs and NGOs must design risk reduction strategy, and teach parents, family, community members, teachers, and care givers how to minimize their children’s vulnerability to violence.
Sanober Hashmi, a freelance writer and researcher, observed that, “It is a grim reality that children have never been considered precious, among a large section of this society. Certainly a high birth rate and abundance of children have made them invaluable and therefore they, the children, are vulnerable to all sorts of violence in the country.” She informed that increased media reporting in Pakistan, in recent years, have brought the issue of violence against children in limelight, as people in general are still in the state of denial and consider child abuse an internal family matter. Sanober Hashmi lamented that despite high number of violence cases against children in recent months, not a single action has been taken by the federal or any provincial governments to minimize the phenomenon.
Syed Kashif Fatmi, a gender expert and founder of Dignity Foundation, informed that recent increase in child abuse cases is a serious concern for the civil society organizations, especially those working on child protection. He held poverty as a major factor that lead to increase in violence against children and added that commodification of children and their role as earning hands for their families has exposed them to various vulnerabilities.
Syed Kashif Fatmi added that, “Poor and needy parents often send their children, either boys or girls, to work at a very young age. Mostly boys work in shops, garages, hotels and restaurants while girls work as domestic servants in order to earn livelihood for their families.” He added that, “Physical, sexual and emotional violence against working children is a reality of their daily lives; additionally, no or very limited support mechanisms are available to facilitate the child victims of violence in the country.” The Islamabad based gender expert concluded that police personals are not sensitized to deal with the victims of child abuse while it is very deplorable that parents and family members don’t encourage their children, if they wish to report any untoward incident.
It is important to mention that UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a legally binding treaty and according to Article 19 of CRC:
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.
Muhammad Ali, President of Roshni Helpline, has condemned the increase in violence cases against children and informed that according to the database of Roshni Helpline a large number of missing, kidnapping and violence cases have been reported, in all four provinces of the country, during the first five months of 2012. He also referred recent news reports about the discovery of dead bodies of minor girls in a densely populated area of Karachi and informed that these girls were killed after sexual assault.
Muhammad Ali opined that poverty, frustration, illiteracy, and no respect of child rights are the major reasons of the problem. The President of Roshni Helpline observed that, “Parents, families and teachers have limited understanding about the needs of children. This lack of understanding leads to neglect and emotional abuse of children. A recent research article, “Emotional abuse of girl child is not an exception”, also informs about the increasing cases of emotional abuse in our society; however, no one cares about the emotional abuse of children.” Muhammad Ali said that recent reported cases of attempted and committed suicide were also the outcome of emotional abuse. He also suggested that comprehensive studies and strategies are required to tackle the issue of emotional abuse of children.
Violence against children has been practiced, and unfortunately accepted, for centuries in major parts of the globe; however, intensity and occurrence of such violence is much frequent in poor and less developed countries as compare to developed countries. In my opinion the economic status, financial affluence or prosperity of any society doesn’t have any nexus with the respect and protection of child rights. It is essentially the understanding of the rights of children, coupled with the strict implementation of child protection legislation that have ensured child safety and development in any society and country.