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Child soldiers and workers numbers rise

Floods and ongoing conflicts cause jump in figures

A child goes to work as a rag picker in Lahore A child goes to work as a rag picker in Lahore
  • ucanews.com reporter, Lahore
  • Pakistan
  • September 5, 2012
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The number of children aged 10 to 15 who have to work now stands at over 10 million, says a children's rights group.

Many are involved in firing kilns, rag picking, mining, fishing and quarrying, according to the annual report from the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC).

The report, entitled The State of Pakistan’s Children 2011, found that successive floods caused 1.8 million children to drop out of school in the last two years. The population of street children increased in cities that are close to flood-affected areas, while only 53 percent of the flood-affected children benefitted from nutritional programs.

Meanwhile, armed conflicts in the north have increased the recruitment of child soldiers and suicide bombers.

This is exacerbated by the number of schools that have been forced to close. Militants destroyed or partially damaged 710 schools, affecting 600,000 children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas Secretariat had already closed 956 schools in 2010, due to militant threats.

“In short, our society is in reverse gear," said Sajjad Cheema, regional manager of SPARC. "The current political and economic scenario has aggravated child labor. The intensifying energy crisis in the country increased the demand for manual labor, increasing employment of children in factories. What is more, the government reduced education spending from 2 percent to 1.8 percent in the latest budget."

The research also highlighted the impact of religious fundamentalism on children. It pointed out that absence of government monitoring and regulation in unregistered Madrassahs  - Islamic seminaries - allowed clerics to administer extreme forms of corporal punishment.

Islamization of textbooks discriminates against non-Muslim students, SPARC says. Minority girl children are subjected to forced conversion to Islam through rape and abductions, with the involvement of extremist and religious organizations.

“The situation is worse when law enforcement agencies side with Islamic groups. Also one Christian girl child and several Ahmadi students were accused of blasphemy. The situation for minority children has become worse than before,” said Sobia John, a program officer on violence against children at SPARC.

The report counted 2,303 cases of child sex abuse, 1,421 cases of juvenile detention, 7,000 cases of child abduction, 167 cases of children’s death as soldiers or in crossfire between the army and terrorists (in the northern province) and 27 Hindu children kidnapped for ransom in the last few months of 2011.

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