Since 1999, when the issue of the thousands of children who had run away from home or gone missing came up in a big way following the confession of Pakistan’s most notorious serial killer, Javed Iqbal, that he had murdered 100 small boys and dissolved their bodies in acid, we appear to have forgotten about such kids. While doubts have been cast over Iqbal’s claims since his 2001 suicide in jail, the fact remains that thousands of children vanish from their homes each year. According to a study last year, by the UK-based humanitarian organisation, Plan International, around 3,000 children vanish from home each year. In the absence of a database, the precise number is almost impossible to establish. Some are kidnapped, some lost and some run away. Most are aged between five and 16 years — and are never found again. Past studies by human rights groups in the country suggest that most of these children quit their homes due to financial stress or domestic discord. Others run away to escape brutality at schools and madrassas.
There appears to be good reason to believe that the number of children leaving home has increased as the economic situation in the country worsens. Insecurity of other kinds adds to the problem. The failure of police to take serious note of complaints by parents whose children have gone missing means efforts to locate them are at best half-hearted. These children are, of course, in an extremely vulnerable situation. Many fall victim to criminal gangs; others succumb to drug addiction, most often to ‘glue’ in the form of cheap adhesives spread on cloth or cardboard and sniffed up — with a disastrous impact on health.
There is too little effort underway to remedy the situation. The talk we had heard in the early 2000s of ensuring that the police do more to keep track of runaway children has come to naught. It is uncertain what it will take to wake us up to the dangers inherent in this situation and move authorities to take action which can prevent another Javed Iqbal from emerging one day to prey on society’s most helpless members.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2011.