Faisalabad Tops in Cases of Violence against Children in Pakistan

Murtaza, a 55-year-old resident of the Mukoana area in Faisalabad, is employed as an assistant in a nearby factory. He articulates the challenges posed by his modest income and the prevailing inflation, which significantly hinder his ability to cover household expenses. This financial strain has unfortunately led to the cessation of his children’s education.

Approximately three to four months ago, a woman from the village advised Murtaza to consider sending his 11-year-old daughter, Ayesha, to reside with a local schoolteacher. In exchange for performing household duties, the teacher would provide Ayesha with education. Murtaza consented to this arrangement.

Following this agreement, Raheela, a schoolteacher from Neemat Colony, visited Murtaza’s home. She committed to enrolling Ayesha in school and treating her as one of her children, including providing for her sustenance and other necessities. Additionally, Raheela offered a monthly stipend of four thousand rupees to support Ayesha, emphasizing the potential for a brighter future due to her sensible nature. Consequently, Ayesha was sent to live with Raheela.

Murtaza recounted an incident that occurred overnight between February 25 and 26, when Raheela and her brother unexpectedly arrived at his home, informing him that Ayesha was seriously ill and receiving treatment at the District Headquarters Hospital (Allied II). They attempted to dissuade Murtaza from publicizing the situation by offering him money.

Murtaza recounts that upon learning of Ayesha’s abrupt illness, he was adamant about seeing her. Consequently, he made his way to the hospital with her, insisting on her immediate transportation. Upon arrival, he was met with the devastating sight of Ayesha having already passed away. The visible bruises covering her body bore witness to the severe maltreatment she had endured.

As Murtaza shared these harrowing details, he was visibly overcome with emotion, his voice breaking and tears streaming down his face.

On February 26, following a report from the administration of Allied Hospital, the Madina Town Police initiated legal proceedings against Fazlur Rehman, a resident of Nimat Colony, along with his sisters Sunila Tufail and Raheela. They were charged with the murder of Ayesha and were subsequently detained.

The initial autopsy report revealed eighteen instances of trauma on various parts of Ayesha’s body, indicating she had been subjected to extreme physical abuse, some injuries appearing to have been inflicted a few days before her death.

Head Constable Tariq Munir, who was among the first responders to arrive at the hospital following the report of the girl’s demise, remarked that the condition of Ayesha’s body left no doubt regarding the severe torture she had suffered.

Inayat Ali, the lead investigator of the case, has stated that biological samples have been dispatched to the Punjab Forensic Laboratory to ascertain the cause of Ayesha’s death. Meanwhile, the three individuals accused of her murder are currently detained under physical remand by the police.

During the interrogation process, the accused have variably described the girl’s death as either an ‘accidental occurrence’ or the result of an ‘allergic reaction’. Despite these claims, the case is being treated as a deliberate act of homicide. Although the final determination awaits further analysis from the forensic laboratory, Inayat Ali expresses a strong conviction that the likelihood of the accused evading justice is minimal.

Tragically, this incident is not an isolated occurrence of violence leading to the death of a young girl or domestic worker in Faisalabad. Notable past incidents include the murder of a seven-year-old girl following a sexual assault in Dujkot in the previous October, and the death of a ten-year-old domestic worker, who was tortured and strangled in Gulberg Colony in March 2023.

A recent report by ‘Sahil’, a non-governmental organization advocating for children’s rights, highlights a disturbing trend of increased crimes and violence against children in the Faisalabad district. According to the report, Faisalabad recorded the highest incidence of such cases last year, totaling 888. The report further details incidents across other regions, with 496 cases in Rawalpindi, 382 in Kasur, 306 in Islamabad, 266 in Sialkot, 169 in Gujranwala, 151 in Lahore, 104 in Sargodha, 84 in Rahim Yar Khan, and 82 in Khairpur.

Data from Sahil shows that a total of 4,213 children were subjected to sexual and physical violence during 2023, including 2,251 girls and 1,962 boys.

Out of these abused children, 2,021 were sexually abused while 61 were killed after being raped.

During the same year, 286 children were killed in various incidents, out of which 121 were subjected to brutal physical violence.

Muneeza Bano, the Executive Director of Sahil, emphasizes the prevalence of violence and crimes against children predominantly occurring within domestic environments. She advocates for a collective societal responsibility in addressing and preventing these incidents. Bano expresses concern over the absence of a comprehensive national strategy or action plan aimed at curbing child abuse, despite the rising trend in such offenses. This scenario, she argues, necessitates immediate and decisive action.

Inspector Malik Shahid, serving as the spokesperson for the Faisalabad Police, neither confirmed nor contested the statistics related to child crimes provided by Sahil for the district. He noted the lack of specialized records or databases within the police force dedicated to tracking incidents of physical or sexual violence against children. Furthermore, a dedicated division is absent within the department tasked with overseeing crimes against children. Shahid acknowledged the efforts of the police to prosecute those responsible for such crimes. However, he highlighted a significant challenge in achieving justice, as many cases do not reach a conclusive end due to settlements or reconciliations between the families of the victims and the accused.

Rubina Iqbal, the district officer of the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau in Faisalabad, articulates that her organization plays a pivotal role in the rescue of children who have been victims of physical or sexual violence. This is achieved through collaboration with the police and the provision of legal support to the affected children. “The police bear the principal duty of curbing crimes against children. Our bureau’s mission encompasses offering shelter, educational opportunities, and healthcare services to vulnerable children, alongside equipping them with the necessary skills to pursue a life of dignity,” Iqbal explains.

Waqas Hameed, the leader of Sahil’s data collection team, observes that a significant proportion of the reported cases within the Faisalabad district emanate from the Jaranwala, Tandlianwala, and Tandliyanwala areas. The question of why the Faisalabad district exhibits a higher incidence of child-related crimes remains unanswered by any organization.

Maria Hussain, a psychologist specializing in the psychological rehabilitation of children within the Child Protection Bureau, posits that escalating unemployment rates, poverty, and educational deficits may contribute to the rising trend of violence against children in Faisalabad. “Given Faisalabad’s status as an industrial hub, it attracts a wide demographic seeking employment opportunities. This dynamic may inadvertently elevate the prevalence of child labor and the employment of children as domestic workers, further exacerbating the issue of violence against these vulnerable groups,” Hussain suggests.

She highlights that despite Lahore and Karachi being larger cities, Faisalabad reports a higher frequency of incidents involving children. This discrepancy warrants thorough investigation and intervention by relevant authorities.

Dr. Rana Ejaz Ali Khan, an economist, conducted a study in 2003 focusing on child labor within Faisalabad and Pakpattan. His findings revealed a disturbingly high rate of violence against children in Faisalabad, attributing the primary cause to the prevalent trend of child labor. Dr. Khan identified poverty, constrained financial resources, and familial disputes as fundamental drivers of child labor. His research further suggests that child laborers are at an increased risk of experiencing violence. These children often originate from families where mothers are excluded from decision-making processes or less inclined to prioritize their children’s education.

Muneeza Bano, the Executive Director of Sahil, references Article 25A of the Pakistani Constitution, which mandates free education for children aged five to sixteen. Despite this constitutional provision, Pakistan ranks as the second-largest country globally regarding the number of children not enrolled in school. This stark reality underscores the urgent need for enhanced efforts towards ensuring educational accessibility and eradicating child labor.

“Violence against children represents not only a societal issue but also a psychological one, with children being particularly susceptible as they are often seen as easy targets for individuals seeking to discharge their frustrations or depressive states,” it is noted.

Ayesha Raza Farooqui, the chairperson of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC), reports that her organization is actively engaged in enhancing the legal and institutional frameworks to safeguard children against violence. “Our efforts include submitting recommendations to both the federal and provincial governments aimed at curtailing physical and sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of children, under the mandates of the NCRC Act, 2017. However, our jurisdiction does not extend to direct action against any entities or individuals.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shares a similar concern, observing that nearly three decades after Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the country has yet to establish an exemplary, integrated child protection, case management, and referral system. Furthermore, UNICEF points out the absence of a comprehensive national survey on child labor since the initial and sole survey conducted in 1996, underscoring a significant gap in the ongoing efforts to understand and address child labor issues comprehensively.

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