Save our children

The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

Alarming news from Punjab that children are being kidnapped with increasing frequency. A police report reveals that 1,808 children were kidnapped between 2015 and 2016. A total of 1,715 minors have been recovered so far while investigation proceeds to locate 93 others are under way.

In 2015 alone, there were more than 1,200 kidnappings reported in Punjab. The figures are just as alarming for 2016. Until now, 767 children have been kidnapped from Punjab mostly from Lahore, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur and Bahawalnagar. The number of unreported cases, however, is believed to be much higher as families of the victims tend to avoid taking help from law enforcement agencies.

In a recent conversation, Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said  that some intra-provincial and intra-district gangs were also involved in kidnapping children.

There is both confusion and worry. A meeting chaired by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was informed this month that as many as 767 children had been kidnapped from different cities of the province in the first seven months of the current year of which as many as 721 were successfully recovered and had rejoined their families.

According to a statement issued by the Punjab government, officials of Punjab Child Protection Bureau briefed the meeting about special measures being taken to ensure the earliest-possible recovery of the missing kids.  One wonders what these measures are given that there is no public campaign or information exchange to make people aware of what is happening.

But instead the Punjab police is playing this down. More recently, Inspector General Punjab Police Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera told the media that the kidnapping of children “was not a serious issue” and it had been wrongly portrayed by the media because most of the children ran away from their homes due to harsh attitudes of their parents.

The IGP claimed that the police had recovered many runaway children from railway stations, shrines and bus stands in big cities while many of them were still in different centres.

Similarly, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Operations, Lahore, Dr Haider Ashraf, rejected the reports that more than 600 children have been abducted from the province in recent days.

Giving details, Haider said throughout 2015 a total of only 1,134 children abduction/missing cases were recorded of which about 929 returned on their own and 164 were recovered. “Four children are still missing”, the police official said and added that 90 per cent of the missing children left their homes themselves due to “admonishing by their parents.”  This is just the beginning of the confusion.

Earlier, Additional IG Punjab Nadeem Nawaz had submitted a report in the Supreme Court, stating that 6,793 children were abducted in different parts of Punjab in the last six years, out of which 6,654 have been recovered till now. The numbers do not add up.

While the police says it is not a serious issue, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif directed setting up a special task force with regard to the missing children.

He told officials that strict surveillance of areas with the highest rates of missing children should be ensured and the best police officers and staff should be posted in such areas. Additional police forces should be deputed at bus stands, railway stations, parks and other places of rush. This is a good beginning. While we can welcome Shahbaz Sharif’s advice, a national campaign has to be launched to deal with this problem. Most of the children being kidnapped end in begging rings. There is no effort being made to unearth these rings which facilitate such kidnappings. So far, not one person has been sentenced in this connection.

It is high time we took the safety and security of our children more seriously. Children in Pakistan continue to be the victims of terrorists, rapists, pedophiles and kidnappers. The highest incidence is reported in Punjab. And yet the police remains unmindful of the situation. It is content with giving contradictory figures on one aspect or another.

Officials should be brought to book. The perpetrators of these crimes need to be arrested and sentences to lengthy terms in prison. Children have to be recovered and rehabilitated. All this requires political will and vision. These are two qualities it seems found lacking in most of our leaders. Hopefully things will improve in days to come.

Original news :