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Looking for heroes in a troubled land

Violence against children has shattered hope and destroyed innocence

Looking for heroes in a troubled land
Silent Thinker, Lahore

June 4, 2012

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The suicide rate among Pakistani teenagers is increasing and there is an obvious reason: They are losing hope. About 15 students have committed suicide in the past few months, according to local media reports. A few television reports have addressed the issue, but the airwaves continue to be dominated by talks of budgets and battling politicians. Meanwhile, the country is losing its potential future leaders because of a turbulent present filled with despair and hopelessness. Perhaps the country needs some kind of super hero, a Superman to lead us back into the path of the good and the true, someone to restore the innocence of the young, which has sadly been lost. Young people are being stripped of their innocence, and society is to blame, said Sajjad Cheema, regional manager for the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), in a media briefing in Lahore last week. “They were not born with a psychological disorder. Their environment brought them to the point where they gave up on us. It is a national failure,” he said. According to data compiled by SPARC Punjab, 122 cases of child rights violations were reported from January to May this year. Among these, 40 incidents of child sexual abuse were identified, 14 children were killed and 22 others were kidnapped. Fourteen children were subject to corporal punishment, six were forced to marry and 13 died as the result of medical negligence. “Violence is making dangerous trends in our society, especially among children. The state seems to be a silent spectator, showing the least concern over such barbarous incidents that would continue to haunt the younger generation,” Cheema said. Our very own Superman would help bring back optimism and spur us to fight the evils of corruption, rampant inflation, crumbling infrastructure and the army of Taliban tyrants that has ravaged the country for decades. Such evils have entrapped the minds of Pakistan’s youth, a senior teacher in Peshawar told me recently. “[Young people] have become intolerant and lost reverence for their elders. This has resulted in suicides and assaults on teachers in schools and universities,” the teacher said. I grew up idolizing several heroes, though they were not the ones found in American comics. My heroes existed in books popular among children during the 1970s and 1980s. They included Umro Ayyar (an Arabic trickster with a magical pouch that could never be filled), Chlosak Malosak (the space traveler twins) and several others. Today these heroes can’t even be found in the pages of Wikipedia. They were never the subjects of blockbuster films. Instead many have idolized Abdul Qadeer Khan, the controversial “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear program. We have named a stadium in Lahore after the dictator Colonel Gaddafi. The doctor who helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, was jailed for at least 30 years. With no adequate heroes – let alone even role models for basic human decency – a vacuum has been created that teachers and parents have been unable to fill. Our children need someone to look up to, someone to tell them that the endless stream of miseries in their lives will some day reach an end, and that their lives are indeed worth living. Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore
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