Speakers at a programme on child abuse said on Saturday that it was a grave yet complex issue requiring interventions at multiple levels beginning from good and healthy parenting, creating awareness in the community and among children about their safety, implementation of all relevant laws to establishment of effective child protection and rehabilitation mechanisms.

They expressed these views at the Stop Child Abuse Conference.

“Verbal abuse is the most common form of maltreatment children experience. Fifty per cent cases of stomach pain in children are found to be linked to some psychological issues.

“Then, there are [psychological] cases in which children complain of headaches before going to school,” said Dr Fawad Suleman, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Child Health.

Explaining how to recognise signs of abuse in children, he said doctors, however, were hapless (at a certain point) because they could not do many things without the support of parents, suggesting that parents, one or both, might be the cause or a contributing factor in “the disturbing situation the child was experiencing”.

One of the speakers says Pakistan has only four qualified child psychiatrists

He also regretted over the dearth of child (and adolescent) psychiatrists in Pakistan and disclosed, to the surprise of the audience, that “there are only four qualified child psychiatrists in the country”.

Parents’ role in upbringing

During the discussion moderated by actor Maria Wasti, participants shared their concern over lack of awareness on the subject and suggested that children should be taught about their bodies, good and bad touch at an early age.

Highlighting the critical role parents play in children’s upbringing, Shaniera Akram representing the Akram Foundation said parents must listen to their children and develop a deeper relationship with them based on trust.

She disapproved what’s seen as normal in Pakistani society and said that parents must not allow anyone to touch their child, which would give a message to children to be cautious of people in their surroundings.

“They have a tiny world and should be helped to draw clear boundaries between family and strangers,” she said.

To a question about how far a 2013 law banning corporal punishment of children had helped prevent abuse in the country, singer-cum-activist Shehzad Roy said that the law might not be implemented 100pc but the positive development was that abusive conduct against children could now be legally challenged.

“It’s because of this law that we see people recording violence against children, which [clips] are then displayed on the media and authorities (are forced to) make arrests,” he said, adding that corporal punishment of children was earlier legally allowed under ‘good faith’.

He also spoke of the efforts being taken to make required additions in children’s curriculum.

Actor Sarwat Gilani, also an advocate of children’s rights, called for collaboration and said all non-governmental organisations needed to work together on this issue.

‘10 kids being assaulted on daily basis’

Recent data on children’s sexual abuse was also shared during the discussion and it was pointed that more than 10 children, who were less than 18 years of age, were being sexually abused daily in Pakistan.

Earlier, former senator Javed Jabber referred to the various sections of the UN Convention on Children’s Rights, highlighted the position of the international forum on this subject.

“I want to focus on non-violent abuse, something very damaging but which is incalculable, invisible and intangible. And, this conduct is not limited to illiterate or semi-literate families, you would find it even in educated families,” he said, adding that this attitude could be disabling in one or the other fundamental ways.

He also recalled efforts the government of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had made in its first tenure for children’s rights at the international level.

Rabiya Javeri, the secretary of the ministry of human rights, spoke of the efforts the government was taking to ensure protection of children’s rights.

Originally published in Dawn, September 1st, 2019