Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman on Friday expressed alarm at the escalation in child kidnappings in Punjab and the associated reported displays of apathy from the province’s government and law enforcement agencies.
“The fact that the government officials had the audacity to tell the parents that it is their primary responsibility to not let their children play in the streets and keep them under a close watch is sickening,” Rehman stated, and added, “Work to find a solution – stop being part of the problem.”
There have been at least 767 reported cases of kidnappings from the larger cities in Punjab in the first seven months of the year. That the number grew so alarmingly is what has brought it into the media spotlight – that too after Supreme Court took a suo motu notice. More worryingly, since no ransom is demanded after the kidnappings, LEAs believe the children are abducted to be trafficked.
Citing statistics from the Pakistan Labour Force Survey 2012-13, she said, “41 per cent of Pakistan’s population is between the age group of 0 to 14. This vulnerable segment of the population continues to suffer from violence, abduction and abuse.”
“The age bracket of those abducted is between 6 to 15 years, falling in about the same category. This is indicative of kidnappings for the beggar mafia and terrorist outfits,” stated the Senator. “It is the prime responsibility of the police force to thwart abductions by busting these rings – recovery, while essential, is only treatment of the ailing, not the ailment itself,” she added.
“To put the onus on the parents for protecting their children better – parents who are already grieving their missing children – is appalling,” said the senator. “Children are, of course, the responsibility of the parents, but the state cannot absolve itself completely from these criminal rackets. It is not the parents’ or families’ cross to bear alone. Protection and apprehension of criminals is first and foremost the state’s responsibility – it cannot just be dumped on the citizens,” she added.
Rehman noted that Pakistan is a second-tier country on the human trafficking watchlist, and serves as a source, transit and destination for forced labour and sex trafficking.
“Even that is because it was granted a waiver for devoting sufficient resources to a written plan which, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards. Without that waiver, we would have been downgraded to tier 3,” Rehman said, and added, “From domestic servitude to prostitution and begging, our government does not comply with even the minimum standards trafficking elimination.”
The senator said the government is bound to ensure liberty and security of its citizens as enshrined in Article 184(3) of the constitution. In this case, however, she said, “Neither the police nor the government knows why these children are being abducted every day.”
While the 18th constitutional amendment devolves responsibility for child rights and legislation to the provinces, Article 25 clause 3 of the constitution cedes space to the federal government to contribute towards making special provisions for the protection of the children. Referring to the same, Rehman said, “The fact that Punjab LEAs are contacting law enforcers in Sindh and KP indicates this issue needs to be dealt with at a national level as well.”
Rehman stressed the need for information sharing between the LEAs. “National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) set up under the National Action Plan (NAP) lies operationally defunct,” she added.
Citing police reports, the senator said, “More than 1,800 children were kidnapped between 2015 and 2016. LEAs were able to recover most of these children, but the number of reported kidnappings continues to rise which requires an urgent broader rethink of the approach.”
According to media reports, IG Police Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera alleged that in most cases the children left their houses because of domestic violence or other personal reasons. “Clearly, Punjab’s LEAs jumped at the chance to deflect the blame for this, pointing out that these rackets are based in other provinces,” she said.
“This is not about politics, it is not about blame games, and certainly it is not about our egos,” she said, adding, “Children are not a commodity – the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, and that cannot come to pass without the state’s will.”