Thursday, November 20, 2008
Pakistani Children's Plight
As Pakistan and the world celebrate Universal Children's Day today, it is fair to ask how Pakistan's children are doing? A quick way to capture their plight is to quote a recent AP report in the aftermath of Baluchistan's earthquake. The report said: Children begged for food from trucks passing through Pakistan's quake zone as the death toll rose to 215 and survivors prepared for another frigid night camped out amid wrecked mountain villages.
MSNBC recently reported that the worsening economy in Pakistan is especially taking its toll on children, many of whom are being abandoned by their parents. The report highlighted the case of three mothers who could not afford to feed their children. "The three women came together to my center," Bilquis Edhi of Edhi Center said. "They asked me to please take their children; they could no longer feed them."
"The mothers were sobbing as they tried to leave the children and the children were crying clinging to their mothers," Edhi said. "It was heart wrenching to watch."
While the news of abandoned or begging children offers only a small anecdotal evidence of the sorry state of Pakistani children, the official data paints an equally grim picture. Ranked at 136 on a list of 177 countries, Pakistan's human development ranking remains very low. Particularly alarming is the low primary school enrollment for girls which stands at about 30% in rural areas, where the majority of Pakistanis live. In fact, the South Asia average of primary school enrollment is pulled down by Pakistan, the only country in all of Asia and the Pacific with the lowest primary enrollment rate of 68 per cent in 2005. This is 12 percentage points lower than that of Maldives, which, at 80 per cent, has the second lowest rate in Asia and the Pacific. Low primary enrollment rate and poor health of children in Pakistan raise serious concerns about the future of the nation in terms of the continuing impact of low human development on its economic, social and political well-being.
According to Asia Children's Rights report, about 8 million children, or 40 percent of the total population of children under the age of 5, suffer from malnutrition. About 63 percent of children between 6 months and 3 years have stunted growth and 42 percent are anemic or underweight. Poor nutrition leaves these children vulnerable to diseases. Pakistan is among the few countries of the world where Polio is still endemic. Poor conditions extend to the education sector as well. Over 23 million children in Pakistan have never been to school. The International Labor Organization data shows 3.3 million children, between the ages of 5 and 14 years in Pakistan, are forced to work rather than attend school. A quarter of a million of them work as domestic servants. The most recent United Nations Human Development Report indicates that the youth literacy rate in Pakistan is an abysmal 58 percent, among the lowest in the world. Sexual abuse is another problem. Homelessness of children is quite common. Over 10,000 children below the age of 15 live on the streets and sidewalks of Karachi alone. Many of them are forced to beg for survival. Most of these children say they left home because of domestic violence and family financial problems, according to Edhi Foundation which cares for some of them. According to a report by Amnesty International, there are more than 4,500 juvenile prisoners in Pakistani jails and 66 percent of them are being tried. Juvenile detainees are kept with adults, leaving them vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse.
The government efforts and UN and international help are necessary but the real success with children will require active participation of private Pakistani citizens of all classes in society. Pakistanis at home and abroad need to come together to light candles rather than curse darkness. Directly or indirectly, all people of conscience should help to alleviate the suffering of the children in Pakistan by volunteering or donating through philanthropic organizations such as Human Development Foundation, Hidaya Foundation, Edhi Foundation, Development in Literacy and other similar humanitarian outfits in Pakistan.
Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan 2007-8
Children of a Lesser God
United Nations Universal Children's Day
Plight of Pakistan's Abandoned Children
Nicholas Kristof of NY Times on Pakistan
Pakistan's Prison Children