Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Child abuse by the state

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based think tank.

This week news of two cases of child abuse shocked the nation. In Hyderabad children aged six and eleven were arrested by the police on suspicion of theft and handcuffed. In Lahore a child of around the same age was also arrested on similar charges and physically beaten by the police. Police excesses are not new in our society or the world for that matter, but the most troubling part of this news was that in both cases magistrates, who are part of judiciary, issued remands for these suspects. According to reports these children were physically tortured but knowing our “Thaana culture” the mere imagination of the abuse they might have gone through sends shivers down the spine of any one blessed with children. Self respecting states consider it their duty to protect the weak and vulnerable but what can we say of a state whose officials themselves engage in such activities?

In all modern states children this young are not held legally responsible irrespective of the apparent wickedness of their actions. They are presumed too innocent to comprehend the consequences of their actions. This simple fact must be known to the police and certainly the magistrate but still these unfortunate incidences happened. These unearthed episodes of child abuse do not appear to be isolated aberrations as we hear abundant stories of child abuse in our society. Spending a few nights in the police lockup can cause permanent damage to the psyche of grownups and surely these little children must have suffered even more. This abuse must have damaged the last remnants of self esteem that our society might have spared until now and we will have a few more Pakistanis with ugly scars. Self esteem is the most valuable asset of any person and people lacking it cannot become healthy individuals or citizens or any other desirable thing for that matter. If they are unable to respect themselves they cannot respect anyone or the law, except maybe brute force. This is one on the major causes of most of the problems we are facing as a nation. A nation of people devoid of self esteem cannot have a healthy national self esteem. This explains our lack of respect for law or the weakness of our national institutions.

In this case little children who could not be arrested were illegally detained by the law enforcement officials with the consent of a magistrate representing our judicial setup. Injustice was done to these children and Pakistan is left to cater for a few more abused and damaged citizens, no small harm for the nation. The question arises who is responsible for this shameful incidence. Will he ever be unearthed for this grave injustice to the innocent and the nation?

This particular occurrence brings to light a series of failures of our society. The society failed to provide for the basic necessities to these young children like food and shelter forcing them to indulge in stealing whereas in any decent country they would have been getting pampered in schools. Then it did not provide them with education which is always the responsibility of the state. And then it did not protect them from itself. These failures must be corrected as they can have serious consequences.

Children are beautiful and innocent and there are no two opinions about it. They are a gift of God and according to Khalil Gibran “They are sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself”. They are the most valuable asset of any society as its future depends on them. Their minds and personalities are like a clean slate ready to be written upon and self esteem is being built. No wonder the civilized world considers this age the most sensitive and invests heavily on bringing up its children whereas in Pakistan stories of physical abuse of children in schools are widespread to the extent that some of them died because of it. A few years back death of a child in Sargodha was highlighted in the media but nothing happened and the story died down soon. No one was held responsible for this murder which occurred in a private school. Madrassas are even more notorious and the western media has repeatedly shown pictures of little children tied in chains bringing shame to the nation. Slight mistakes raring children at this stage can have grave consequences for long and we are routinely committing blunders. Children spending times in police stations rather than the schools would certainly not make them good citizens tomorrow. This does not paint a rosy picture about the future of Pakistan.

We claim to belong to the faith in which the head of the state is considered responsible for the basic necessities of even the animals residing in the state and we must take care of our children. We have taken many steps to protect our women and minorities but hardly anything substantial for our children. It is important to protect and support the minorities and the women but more important to protect our children as they are the weakest, most vulnerable and nearly defenseless. They are physically weak, inarticulate and cannot hold press conferences neither can they arrange walks or involve the foreign governments. They have only their families for their protection but the children without parents or belonging to very poor families are absolutely defenseless. Even these children are humans and their rights must be protected.

These unfortunate incidences shocked the nation but failed to affect the people at the helm of affairs sufficiently. These two cases of child abuse must be taken seriously at the highest level. All kinds of child abuse must be stopped. The minimum we can do for the affected children is to ensure their sustenance and education at the governmental level. We must do it as we owe it to them. Although the lower police officials have been suspended for this action but that appears to be highly inadequate bordering on an eye wash. Any senior officer who cannot control the subordinates does not deserve to be in the position. Responsibility of the police must be established and the magistrate guilty of this crime must also be held accountable. Physical, emotional or mental abuse of children in schools and Madrassas must be outlawed and this law enforced. Arrangements must be made to look after the poor and the dispossessed as this cannot be left to the philanthropists alone. The government must stop forcing our children to steal for survival by providing the necessities. We must educate all aspects of our society about the rights of the children and how to raise them in such a matter as to make them good citizens in future. We cannot win the respect of the world if we do not give our children the rights that they deserve despite holding marathons or lethal bombs. Enlightened moderation that does not protect the innocent children sounds like a deception. We should never forget what our Holy Prophet PBUH taught, “you the people beware of Gods wrath while dealing with two weak people, women and your dependants (children and the elderly)”

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