Home is not always where the heart is — a seven-year-old boy and his nine-year-old sister learnt the heartbreaking lesson after their stepmother came into their lives and showed them the door.
“After spending two nights in a deserted wasteland, my sister took me to a culvert, where we spent the third night. It was very cold so my sister covered me with her shawl, but when I asked her for tea and food in the morning, she only cried,” said the boy.
The two children were forced to fend for themselves after being thrown out of their house.
When their mother died, their father, a driver by profession, remarried a woman, who from the first day of marriage, hated her stepchildren and did not waste any opportunity to inflict emotional and physical abuse. Scars from cuts and unhealed wounds are still visible on their faces, remnants of the insufferable cruelties witnessed by the children. The brother and sister were in their stepmother’s care since their father was away most of the time and lived with her children from a previous marriage.
“Once she even hit me with an axe,” the boy told The Express Tribune. When asked whether he was taken to a hospital for treatment, he shook his head. “My stepmother made a poultice of salt and pepper and rubbed it on my open wounds,” he added. “It really hurt.”
Both children were tortured by their stepmother, who made them work all day and fed them only at night. The children said they had to sleep in a separate room and were not allowed to sleep with their stepbrothers and sisters.
Expelled from their home, the two sought shelter in various houses before coming to a village close to Mingora, where they spent six months. At last, a tailor took pity on them and brought them home. He handed them over to a local orphanage run by the Khpal Kor Foundation (KKF).
The children are residing at the foundation’s shelter for now, but they will soon be turned over to the local administration. “It is our responsibility to give missing children shelter and look after them till their parents have been found and notified,” said KKF Director Muhammad Ali. He added that the children’s father had been traced through the District Child Protection Unit and that they would soon be handed back to him.
The unit’s coordinator, Gohar Ali said psychologists had been hired to counsel both children.
“We have traced their parents and reported the matter to the assistant coordination officer, who in turn has initiated an inquiry,” he said, adding that the children will be handed back to their parents shortly.
With a new chapter about to begin, the children are still terrified by the prospect of returning home. With tears dripping from their cheeks, they could only say, “We don’t want to go back. We hate that place”.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2012.