Eight year-old Ali Hassan was a victim of a hit-and-run accident. Coming from a dysfunctional family, he also suffered parental neglect following abandonment by his father, and family violence. His mother had sent him, along with his older sister, to work as domestic workers. His tasks included dish-washing and cleaning of the car. Their wages were paid directly to the mother.
Ali was physically abused by his employer whenever he failed to perform to his satisfaction. The beatings became harder and more frequent, compelling him to escape. Distressed, he ran away from his employer’s home, totally unaware of the consequences of his actions. Little did he know that the escape would lead nowhere close to his flight for freedom. He was hit by a car and left on the roadside with a fractured leg until the police shifted him to the hospital. From there on, he remained under police supervision.
After his hospitalization, the police initiated a search for Ali’s parents. Announcements were made in nearby mosques and markets, but there was no response. The boy, therefore, remained under police care.
Heartfile was contacted to help with Ali’s surgery. Compelled by moral responsibility, the organization considered it necessary to ensure safe rehabilitation of the homeless minor. As per the law, the police had to hand over the minor boy to the Child Protection Bureau (CPB), a government institution working in the domain of child protection and care.
Ali’s trial did not end even at the CPB, which turned out to be an institution where no care was provided to children. The centre’s mandate was not being followed. The staff’s incompetence was evident as children of conflicting ages, experiences, and backgrounds were inappropriately pooled together, including those involved in drugs. No medical attention was being provided to children and they were left to linger around with infectious diseases. It turned out to be the most child-unfriendly environment imaginable.
Regardless of the situation, prevalent rules in Pakistan require that abandoned and runaway kids be referred to the CPB and hence, Ali’s fate was left to them.
This case highlights issues of abandoned and runaway minor kids, child labour, child abuse, lack of medical support for poor children, and most importantly, the incompetence of government institutions like the CPB, where unskilled staff inflicts pain on children without the fear of accountability.
The idea of setting up the CPB was a commendable initiative. The signing and ratification of the International ILO Convention against Child Labour suggested that Pakistan was bound by the Convention’s obligations. However, the government has not implemented the procedures to ensure implementation. Ali’s future could have been brighter if the CPB’s functions were properly monitored by the government, and the provisions of the Convention were implemented in true spirit.
The eradication of child abuse and child labour is not just in the interest of children like Ali, but is also an urgent national imperative for all children of Pakistan. Issues related to the management of an established child protection institution should urgently be addressed. Failure to do so will simply perpetuate abuse and exploitation, and exacerbate the existing social fissures in Pakistani society.
Heartfile could not have changed the course of Ali’s future, but it did make a humble contribution by financing his surgery and making a follow-up visit when he was referred to the CPB.