According to Pakistan’s Hidden Shame, a documentary by Clover Films which came out in the year 2017, around 4 million children across Pakistan are forced into labor at an early age due to poverty, and out of these, about one and a half million live on the streets with no home to go to. Many of those who do have a home to return to fear beating if a daily quota of earning has not been met. These working children have put aside what must be expected of them i.e., education, and take up what their situation has urged them to – labor. But that is not even the scariest part.
Many of these extremely vulnerable children are forced into child prostitution or simply lured into getting raped at bus stands where they go to find themselves a bed for the night, making Pakistan an extremely notorious place for the young.
Spaces like Peshawar’s Jinnah Park at GT road, which is billed as a family park, operate as a sex trafficking ring. On another hand, according to a report published by CrowdH News in 2017, there exists an extremely busy bus station operating transport services between Rawalpindi and Islamabad called Pir Wadhai. During the day it is like any other bus stand. During the night it turns into a more insidious, a more sinister nightmare. Hamid Nawaz, a resident of the area reveals, “They are seen as street children during the daytime. They survive on rancid leftovers often scooped out of garbage cans and at night they moonlight as commercial sex workers serving pedophiles.”
Usually raped because the owner of the place that arranges a makeshift Siraya (a temporary resting place for travelers), with Charpaais (beds)on the road, took money from incoming bus drivers for the bed and the child both, some of these children are entirely caught off guard and mentally unprepared for what happens to them, with no knowledge of the agreement the owner has made. Some of these boys are asleep when it happens to them. Many other children are put on drugs, as a means of extracting sexual favors in return for drug provisions.
Manizeh Bano, Director of Sahil (NGO) explains why it is that a bus stand serves as a hotspot for such activities. “Most of them leave their towns and cities through buses. The procurers are always on the lookout for such children. They lure the children by providing them with food, clothing, and accommodation, and before the child knows it, a client shows up at the door to rape him. Children who retaliate are accused of theft and taken to the police. Procurers act as benefactors and arrange for the bail thus influencing the children to act as a guide.”
Rampant pedophilia extracts out the blackest of our ironies and hypocrisies as a society and paints them on a white wall in the ugliest fashion. Pakistan is a country that does not acknowledge the LGBTQI communities living in its midst, yet child prostitution, particularly of young boys at the hands of other men is an open secret. While it detests consensual sex between two adults, it allows the rape of these young and helpless children to happen.
Although Pakistani members of the assembly are blissfully ignorant towards the ills that could persist even if people are married early, and are busy proposing marriage bills for early marriages, cases of girls being forcefully converted and trafficked by their “husbands” have come forward. The younger the age, the more there is a lack of awareness of rights, and the easier it is to breach the young individual’s security. According to a report by Persecution.org, Nena, a fourteen-year-old girl from Hyderabad, Sindh, was kidnapped and converted to Islam by her kidnappers. She was later married off. This situation is all too common for Pakistan, particularly Sindh. But Nena was also sold into prostitution after her marriage forced to abort or abandon any child she has as a result.
On February 3, 2020, Sindh High Court in Karachi ruled that men in Pakistan can marry underage girls as long as they have had their first menstrual cycle. This verdict is in conflict with the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, which forbids marriage below the age of 18.
Bachcha Bazi a familiar terminology for people in Northwestern Pakistan and areas joined to the upper part of the Durand line. It refers to sex slavery of children along with child prostitution within the KPK region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Clover Films, along with Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi released a documentary addressing Bachcha Bazi in KPK and Afghanistan titled, “The Dancing Boys Of Afghanistan“. The practice, although banned by the Taliban still operates freely within the two regions, and if punishment has to commence, it usually falls on the children than the perpetrators. Forcing and coercion are common characteristics of the practice and the tradition is age-old.
One cannot deny that most of this pedophilia stems from the idea that any and everybody exists to please the male gaze. It is what runs society and everything else is merely orbiting it. The male gaze is power. It controls all its other subjects. It does not matter whether those subjects are animate or inanimate, whether it is appropriate or inappropriate. It frequently fuses between subjects and objects, dehumanizing and turning one subject secondary to another. However, one thing that exists for sure is the perception that the only primary game-changer in the entire showdown is the very male gaze itself. Whatever pleases or gratifies it, is what the male gaze feeds off from. Be it a child, be it a non-consenting adult. Hypersexualisation, however, serves as a factor plunging the male gaze further to its goal.
World Child Labour Day 2021 should serve as something jolting us awake from our oblivious slumber. Our privilege allows us to turn a blind eye to these atrocities, when the victims of these crimes have nothing else to do but struggle to stay alive, hoping they can make it out of the dark cave someday or the other.