ISLAMABAD-On a rainy night near G11 Markaz where people were enjoying spicy ‘shawarma’ with hot ‘malaiwali’ tea and busy in gossips; beside all, Ahmed was enjoying dream; he was in sleep on stairs.

When he was up and I talked to him about his name and family; confidently he replied, ‘I am Ahmed, 9 years old and living in ‘katchi abadi’ with my family.

I asked him the reason for being there at 12 am. He told me, “We are eight siblings and my number is second; my father has some problem in his right leg; he works in fruit market.”

Ahmed was shivering and totally wet. He added, “Sometimes I work in hotels and wash utensils where I get one hundred rupees and a free meal of one time”. Crying about the financial crisis, Ahmed said, “I always observe other kids going to school every day while I and my little sister head towards the market to sell pens.

When asked about the harsh weather, he replied, “It doesn’t matter; we have to sell our pens. He went back to stairs and put down his head on his little muddy hands. I noticed there was not only Ahmed, a large number of other kids was also there and trying to sell different items.

These all innocent flowers of our society were even unaware of mentally-sick animals in human skin; even they did not know how to protect themselves from filthy faces.

Last year, a survey conducted by Children Rights Movement claimed that over 12.5 million children in Pakistan worked as child laborers. National Coordinator for Child Rights Movement Mumtaz Gohar said that chances of child abuse increased 80% where children worked as laborers. Previously, government of Punjab took notice of child labor and passed a bill but they failed to implement the same.

It is very clear in the bill that every district will have a child protection unit but it has been many years and only twelve districts have these units.

In Islamabad, one can easily observe large number of children working in restaurants and factories. Owners prefer children as laborers as they are cheap; work perfectly without time issue. The average salary of a child is Rs6,000 to Rs10,000 and the kids working in restaurants and hotels work 12 hours and mostly in the kitchen.

When a local hotel owner Dolat Durrani was asked as to why he preferred underage laborers, he replied without any hesitation, “They are fast and smart; we provide them residence, 3 times meal and a small amount monthly as it is difficult to find cheaper labor in the capital.

Advocate Mahr Noman Qadir said that child labor refers to exploitation of children. This is really alarming situation. Article 11 (3) of the Constitution also prohibits child labor by providing the minimum work age as 14 years. However, the 18th Amendment actually elevated the minimum age to 16 years without amending the labor laws, which has increased contradiction, he said.

While talking about education, he said, “Article 25 (A) of the Constitution ensures compulsory education to all. Article 37 (E) says that the state shall make provision for securing children and women”.

Report published by Sahil NGO reveals that the child abuse cases increased more than 11% as compared to the figure 3,445 recorded in the year 2017. More than 10 children have been abused per day during the year 2018. Out of the total 3,832 cases of child abuse, 55% victims were girls and 45% were boys.

This year in the age brackets of 6-10 years and 11-15 years, boys are more vulnerable to sexual abuse as compared to girls. In the age brackets of 0-5 years and 16-18 years, more girls are vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The major crime categories of the reported cases are: abduction 923: sodomy 589: rape 537: missing children 452: attempt of rape 345: gang sodomy 282: gang rape 156 and 99 cases of child marriages.

This year, the sodomy cases have increased by 61% and rape cases have increased by 15% as compared to the year 2017.

The writer is a journalist and freelance contributor. Can be reached at jranasahmed18@yahoo.com