Yesterday in Karachi, Frieha Altaf conducted a conference raising awareness on the issue of child abuse under the banner of Catwalk Cares. The conference brought important names like Sarwat Gillani, Shehzad Roy, Ahsan Khan and Shaniera Akram, along with esteemed child psychologists, on the panel and various discussions touched upon sensitive issues such as violence, general child abuse and sexual abuse. It is a grim reality that has prevailed in society forever but appears to be on a dangerous rise now.
The Stop Child Abuse Conference focused on shedding light on the often overlooked side of mental health; child mental health. Where there is active discourse, thankfully, about issues such as domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and so on, a lot of the times, the aspect of a child going through it all is ignored, and this conference definitely set a precedent by bringing it to the forefront.
Graced by the presence of Ms. Rabiya Javeri Agha, Secretary at the Ministry of Human Rights, as the chief guest, the conference included discussions and presentations related to the topic, and covered a vast array of them; physical, mental and emotional violence against children, child sexual abuse, child prostitution and trafficking, child pornography and cyber crime, child labor, child domestic violence, child marriage, bullying and corporal punishment at schools etc.
“We need multiple interventions when we talk about child abuse,” said singer, Shehzad Roy, as he emphasized on the importance of a child protection unit in Pakistan. He was of the view that the police and the health, education and social welfare departments need to band together in an effort to establish a strong child protection unit to ensure safer spaces for our children.
Adding on to that, he also shed light on how corporal punishments are a grave issue in this regard. “The culture of hitting our children has taken a deep root in our minds and makes it seem like issues can only be resolved through beating or violence,” said Shehzad. Children are taught how to respond to abuse in schools, however it is limited to “informing their parents, siblings, or teachers. If the father does it, who would the child tell it to?” he stressed.
Executive director of the NGO, Sahil, Dr. Manizeh Bano addressed the grim issue of child sexual abuse in Pakistan and the dearth of discourse about it. “It is not necessary for the abuser to have a big mustache,” she said, and that even adolescents are found to be involved.
Characteristically, abusers may usually be anti-social, lack empathy and self-esteem, may be impulsive and drug abusers, cited Manizeh. “Children must be told to not to accept gifts from strangers, and should not be allowed to go anywhere with anyone without permission from the family,” she said.
Executive Director of Aahung, Sheena Hadi highlighted the issue of child marriages. She cited that 21 per cent of the girls are married off by the age of 18, which is the sixth highest rate in the world, according to the estimates by NGO, Girls Not Brides.
Former Federal Information Minister, Javed Jabbar, actor and social activist Sheheryar Munawar, actor and social activist Adnan Malik, actor and Human Development Foundation ambassador Ahsan Khan, Shaniera Akram of The Akram Foundation, director and actor Angeline Malik, psychiatrist Fawad Suleman, human rights lawyer Hassaan Niazi, child rights activist, Rana Asif and and Catwalk CEO Frieha Altaf also spoke at the conference.