It is hard to even being to imagine what thoughts were running through the mind of an 11-year-old child, who obtained petrol, poured it over himself and set himself alight in front of his school to put a tragic end to his life. We are increasingly hearing of cases where teenagers, or those even younger, are committing suicide. Though the reasons may be numerous, there is clear evidence of the anxieties that these children undergo. As a nation, we appear to be raising a generation of depressed children who are turning to drastic measures in order to find respite.
Muhammad Umar, a student of class six at a government school in Faisalabad, died at a local hospital because he had suffered 90 per cent burns. It is unfortunate that his young life ended in great pain and at his own hands. He missed school for two days, following which he was reprimanded and physically abused by a teacher at the school. Umar had been asked by the teacher to bring his father along, but he declined to go. Perhaps, despondent, the child committed self-immolation. Local education officials say that Umar played truant often. Following the incident, the teacher concerned has been suspended and an inquiry into the death has been ordered by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. We suspect that this is about as far as any progress will be made in this quest to seek justice. Similar inquiries have been ordered before and they have not led to any definite conclusions.
The questions that need to be answered go far beyond the immediate incident. The conditions prevailing in government schools need to be improved so that children like Umar are not reluctant to attend them. Corporal punishment along with worse kinds of abuse continue at schools, despite a ban — this practice ought to be stopped immediately. Other youngsters before Umar have killed themselves by hanging, poisoning or other means children ought not to even be familiar with. This death and the situation in general is reflective of our overall social condition. Unless this is altered, we will continue to see more death and tragedies similar to the one we have just witnessed in Faisalabad.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2012.