Protecting the weak and the vulnerable

Is there a relationship between the way a society treats its animals and the attitude it shows towards its children?

Naeem Sadiq May 01, 2019
The writer is a health, safety and environment consultant. He tweets @saynotoweapons

Is there a relationship between the way a society treats its animals and the attitude it shows towards its children? In most societies, a strong, positive correlation has been identified between the two. Animals and children represent two conspicuously weak and vulnerable sections of society and are often beneficiaries or victims of such identical attitudes. Perhaps nothing could demonstrate this phenomenon better than a few examples from Turkey and Pakistan.

On 10th April 2019, thirteen street dogs were found dead in the neighbourhood of Ankara’s Yenimahalle District. The incident caused an immediate public uproar throughout Turkey. Scores of locals rushed to police stations and filed complaints demanding the arrest of two suspected individuals. The Mayor of Ankara vowed to punish those involved. Surely, the culprits were apprehended within 24 hours of committing this cruel act.

Much to the contrary, killing and poisoning of street dogs is a regular phenomenon in Pakistan, often undertaken by the state itself. Inhumanity is encouraged by creating special incentives to kill rare animals for sport and pleasure. The rich and the privileged can hunt the rarest, most endangered and vulnerable animal species — may they be innocent Houbara bustards or the beautiful mountain Markhors. Specially designed packages and permits, deceptively branded and marketed by sophisticated labels such as “trophy hunting” or “foreign policy pillars” are offered to the highest bidders.

Societies that are so brutal and heartless towards helpless animals demonstrate similar patterns of abuse and exploitation for their weak and vulnerable children as well. In Pakistan, this cruelty is incorporated by the near absence of child protection systems, that enable the barbaric predators to continue indulging unabashed in the hideous crimes of abuse, exploitation, rape and murder. This has been going on for 70 years and there is nothing to suggest that an end is in sight.

The importance given to children can be gauged from the fact that the last National Child Labour Survey was conducted in 1996. There are only 34% children under five who are registered at birth nationally, making it impossible to identify, plan or provide for the remaining unknown 66 per cent. An estimated 1.5 million children living on streets are vulnerable to sexual abuse and drugs on a daily basis. About 12.5 million children are trapped in child labour, depriving them of their childhood and wellbeing. The NGO Sahil 2018 report shows 3,832 incidents of child sex abuse, an 11 per cent increase in the cases reported in 2017.

In 70 years, we could not develop either a ‘Missing Child’ alert system or a ‘Response and Recovery’ system for missing children. Instead of banking on private NGOs or foreign aid agencies, the government could have created its own database for missing and abused children. There is no single national helpline phone number where one could report incidents of missing children or child abuse. The police in majority of cases will not even register an FIR. Nothing could better demonstrate the lack of concern and understanding of this issue more than the Sindh cabinet’s November 2018 decision. It called for all child beggars to be picked up from the streets of Sindh and be deposited in Sindh Child Protection Centre at Korangi and the ‘Sweet Home’ shelter for orphans. The cabinet had no clue that the former does not exist and the latter does not receive beggar children.

The attitude of leaning on Unicef to support our CPUs and helplines is counter-productive. The Unicef-prepared SOPs are neither read nor understood by any CPU in Pakistan. There is very little to suggest if we have any procedures and systems of our own on managing our abused and neglected children. The state, for its incompetence and the civil society for its apathy, may well be the two equally guilty partners for this deplorable negligence.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2019.

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