October 11th, 2020
By Hamid Riaz
25 years ago representatives from the world gathered in Beijing to adopt the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a blueprint for the advancement of women’s rights around the globe. In addition to being exceedingly progressive, the declaration was the first to particularly emphasize girls’ rights, sowing the seed for the International Day of the Girl Child which was formally announced 16 years later, on October 11, 2011. The core purpose of the day was to understand and uproot the specific forms of gender violence that young girls face.
Even though Pakistan is a signatory to the Beijing Declaration, it has failed to take concrete steps to ameliorate the standard of life of Pakistani girls. Only 13 percent of girls in the country make it past a ninth-grade education. Moreover, incidents of forced marriages and enforced conversions remain rampant. On top of these, sexual assault and abuse of young girls and women are on the rise across the country. This International Day of the Girl Child, Voicepk.net looks back at the past year and brings you heart-wrenching stories that we reported on, of girls who were robbed of their childhood.
ZAINAB: THE 2 YEAR OLD WHOSE BODY WAS SLIT OPEN
28-months-old Zainab was found murdered after being sexually assaulted some three days ago in Charsada district. Her entire family is in shock. Zainab’s uncle, Shamshirullah, said that the girl was playing with her sister right outside their house on Wednesday, the 7th of October 2020 when an unknown assailant abducted her. A day later, her mutilated body was discovered in some nearby fields. She had been stripped of her clothes and her belly had been split open with a blade. Zainab’s siblings are so shaken that they have refused to come back to their house; her entire family has moved in with some relatives.
An investigation has been launched into the incident, and police claim they have managed to apprehend the prime accused who confessed to the crime during the interrogation. This year alone some 182 cases of child abuse have been reported across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The police have arrested 235 people involved in sex crimes against children.
ZOHRA: THE MINOR DOMESTIC WORKER WHO WAS BEATEN TO DEATH OVER A PET PARROT
Since most of the girls in the country do not make it to school owing to financial and patriarchal constraints, many of them are sent away to work as housemaids. Millions of destitute families in the country send their minor daughters to work for middle-class families for meager wages. These helpless girls are often mistreated and, in extreme cases like that of Zohra, are killed over trivial mistakes.
Zohra was employed as a domestic worker in the Rawalpindi home of an exotic bird trader, Hassan Siddiqui, and his wife Umme Kulsoom. She was regularly beaten, often with instruments, over trivial matters, and sometimes over nothing at all. On the night of the 31st of May 2020, Zohra’s parents received a call from the police. They were told that their daughter had been beaten to death for releasing a caged parrot. Her siblings are still not aware of the tragedy that had befallen their eight-year-old sister; they still await her return. The police have registered a complaint against Hassan and his wife.
IN THE NAME OF HONOR: AIMEN BURIED ALIVE WITH NEWBORN
Honor killing is perhaps one of the most glaring manifestations of gender-based violence in South Asia. Despite countless assurances of addressing this inhumane tradition by various governments, the problem remains persistent to this day. According to the Human Rights Watch, an average of 1,000 Pakistani women are killed in the name of honor every year, a figure which represents only reported cases. In many of these cases, the victims are underage girls.
On the 9th of February, 2020, Aimen, a resident of Kot Addu was buried alive by her brothers, Awais and Farooq, for marrying Mukhtiar Hussain of her own accord roughly a year ago. Her decision had left an egregious stain on their “honor” and the brothers resolved to brutally destroy two innocent lives to restore it.
Aimen was picked up from her house, shot, and then buried with her 40-day old baby. When the police finally dug her up after 18 days, the young woman was found with her arms wrapped in an embrace around her infant son. Awais and Farooq were arrested by the police and confessed to their crime.
“We killed her for honor, there was no other reason. She had a love marriage and left, that’s why we killed her,” they said.
FEMALE FETICIDE: ‘NAMELESS NEWBORN GIRL FOUND ON KARACHI FOOTPATH DIES’
As the world celebrates girls who are now world leaders, in Pakistan societal attitudes toward girl children are highly negative. Girls are looked upon as burdens instead of potential leaders. For this reason, the female feticide rate in the country is alarming high. Though holistic numbers are hard to come by owing to government disregard and under-reporting, it is reported that 1.2 million sex-selective abortions were carried out in the country between the years 2000 and 2014.
Several girls who survive these sex-selective abortions are simply ‘discarded’ by their parents and in most cases are left to die. A similar incident occurred in May this year when an Edhi volunteer, Muhammad Azeem, informed the police about finding a newly born baby girl in extremely critical condition on a footpath in the Mominabad area of Karachi. The baby girl passed away just as she was being shifted to a local hospital for emergency treatment.
FORCED MARRIAGES & ENFORCED CONVERSIONS
All Pakistani girls are growing up in an extremely hostile society but if you are a minority girl in Pakistan, the threat level skyrockets. Every year, at least 1,000 underage minority girls in the country are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and then married off to their abductors. Hindu and Christian families in rural Sindh and Punjab are particularly vulnerable to such crimes. Once the girl has converted, even if it is under pressure, reverting to her original religion becomes impossible owing to the country’s apostasy laws. This International Day of the Girl Child, voicepk.net highlights their plight.
Two minor Hindu girls were abducted from Sawari, a village within the Thari Mirwah police station limits in district Khairpur, Sindh. While the girls’ families fear that the victims are under threat of being forcibly converted and married to their Muslim abductors, the police appear to be sweeping the incident under the rug.
Mithu Oud’s 14-year-old daughter, Suthi, was first abducted from her home by unknown men in the dead of the night. They returned two days later and dragged away Shamma (Suthi’s sister) as well. Locals claim that the girls are victims of forced conversions and that the incidents are an attempt to pressurize the Hindu minority community in the region. The victims’ mother, Shrimti, alleges that a local influential pir, Hussain Ali Shah, had taken the abducted girls to court in his car. To date, no steps have been taken by the police to address the matter.
Yazman Mandi, a gateway to the great desert of Cholistan, was a scene of the kidnapping of a young girl. A pretty 15-year-old Hindu girl, Bhambo Mai, was kidnapped and taken away to Faisalabad by a resident of the village, Munir Ahmed on the night of the 13th of March, 2020. Hassi Mai, Bhambo’s mother, alleges that Munir Ahmed forcibly converted Bhambo Mai to Islam and then forced her to marry him. Hassi Mai says that she is now afraid that the abductors will harass her and her other five children. Hassi Mai lost her husband a few years ago and for fear of being hounded, she locked up her house and came to live with her brother-in-law.