Child prostitutes are a reality in Pakistan that not a lot of us are comfortable addressing but until we open ourselves to accepting that this is a sad reality for so many young children, we won’t be able to fix it.
Pir Wadhai, perhaps one of the busiest bus stations in the country, is located between Rawalpindi and Islamabad, with almost 1200 buses coming in and going every day. It does not only offer transport to passengers, but a little extra, and it is as horrid as one can imagine.
For years, now, Pir Wadhai has also been a hub of child sex trade, where older men lure innocent boys into the profession, with false hopes and promises of better futures.
It is also despicable to know that in spite of operating openly, these people go unchecked. Not only is there prostitution in abundance, but also child trafficking and pedophilia.
The boys on offer are seen as street children during the day, collecting garbage, living of scraps in the garbage, begging for food, selling food, chai, and other items, but as soon as the sun goes down, these boys are forced to adorn another facade altogether. They stand outside bus terminals, restaurants, and along the streets, offering passengers bistars for their stay, and boast of their ‘menu’ of young, boys.
A newspaper agent, working in the area, and a regular witness of the on-goings of the area says, “right after maghrib prayers, one can see children standing inside bus terminals and in nearby streets, gesturing to people passing by, asking if they need kamra bistar, slyly. If you ask if they provide any other services, they will proudly say ‘beautiful boys'”.
It’s not just bus terminals and streets that these boys conduct their business activities, but also in front of check posts of the police and the traffic police, while the authorities choose to simply look away.
The main operators are known as bhais in the area, who show the ‘clients’ what all is on offer. While the whole ordeal in itself is heart-wrenching, the fact that these boys cost between a measly Rs.50 to Rs.200, per visit. That’s the cost of their innocence.
According to the accounts of some of the boys that serve these men, they were brought into this profession under false pretenses, some by their teachers (from schools and madrassahs alike), some by close relatives, and some by friends. There are also those who opted for this profession because they had been abused at home and school, by family members, teachers, and even other students, and they did not see any other way out of it.
Sahil, an NGO dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and trying to eliminate child sexual abuse from the country, says that 90% of the children, who are working as part of labor and on the streets, forced or otherwise, are also sexually exploited.
The instances of drug use and abuse have also skyrocketed among children, in the area, and drug smugglers and providers feel no hesitation in providing these boys with what they require.
These children have no idea what they are getting themselves into and are more often than not coerced into sexual exploitation by adults. They also do not use contraceptives or have access to sexual disease prevention material so their life expectancy is shortened to around 28 years.
A driver, bus parked, feet up, said that they just ‘did not have time to adopt safe sex measures’.
The drug use among these children leads to mental and physical ailments, further decreasing their quality of life (if there is any left) and life expectancy. Locals complain to the police about the abundance of drug use and supply in the area, because of which they are scared to send their children outside even during daytime, but much to their dismay, their complaints fall on deaf ears.
These child prostitutes, when brought into the profession, don’t know any better, and by the time they realize it, they are in too deep
It is the loopholes in our society that allow these child prostitutes to exist and for their exploitation to go on without much hindrance. Because of these practices, not only are physical disabilities on the rise, but these children are also at a huge risk of developing mental disabilities, such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Schizophrenia, and Chronic Depression, among a plethora of others. In spite of the repercussions, child abuse cases do not fall under the Social Welfare Department or the Child Protection Bureau, which functions under its “The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act”, a government-run project, according to Iftikhar Mubarak, a spokesperson for the Child Rights Movement, told Dawn.com.
Pakistan’s Hidden Shame, a documentary, provides insight into the burgeoning issue of child sexual abuse and the ordeal of child prostitutes, in Pakistan.
Director Mohammad Naqvi and British Producer Jamie Doran got together to compile the documentary. Here’s the video:
This is part of our series, “Tales from The Dark Side“, about the deepest, darkest, harshest realities of Pakistani society that should serve as lessons.
For more of the deepest, darkest realities that plague our society check out ‘Tales From The Dark Side‘.
Cover image via: Thomas L Kelly