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March 06, 2014

Pakistan Struggles to Find Missing Children

by Sharon Behn

Thousands of children are abducted in Pakistan every year -- kidnapped for ransom, sold into sexual trafficking or begging gangs, and some are killed. Pakistan is struggling to cope and combat this epidemic.

Ghulaman Mai’s son is missing.

“I have prayed and begged that I get my child back, my son, Shaukat, I want him back. Allah, his name is Shaukat, he is a small child, innocent,” she said.

Shaukat is just one of the 2,700 children known to have gone missing in Karachi in the past year.

Muhammad Ali runs the Roshni missing children helpline in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

“One of the reasons is kidnapping for ransom, and second is kidnapping for sexual assault. Third is the purpose of kidnapping for beggary, the kidnappers are from the beggars groups in Karachi, and the fourth one is for trafficking,” he said.

Big business

Police say children also are stolen and smuggled to the Middle East to work as prostitutes, drug carriers, slaves or even as camel jockeys.

Karachi Police Superintendent Syed Mazhar Ali Shah said trafficking in children is big business.

“They are very high-profile, gangs are -- they are related with the high-profile bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen in foreign countries and Pakistan also,” he said.

Arman Khan’s five-year-old daughter Madeeha went missing almost a year ago. He has been searching for her ever since. He thinks he is finally close to finding her.

“Last week a few culprits were caught, and they admitted kidnapping and selling my daughter to some Afghani. That Afghani has also been arrested, but so far he has not said if my child is alive or dead, with him or not, or even in Pakistan,” said Khan.

Making changes

The first 24 hours that a child is missing are considered crucial, though many parents are confused as to how to approach the police.

This is the big challenge. People do not come forward for reporting, to lodging the FIRs [First Information Reports], for getting help by the police, due to the fears for the insecurity of the child,” said Karachi police superintendent Shah.

Activists say the problem is the law itself: If a child is reported as missing, police are not obliged to investigate. Only if the child is reported as forcibly abducted can the police take action.

Ministry of Human Rights Director General Muhammad Hassan Mangi admitted the country must do a lot more.

“Services have been started, also together with civil society organizations, but this needs more comprehensiveness in terms of protecting any child requiring protection,” he said.

For Ghulaman Mai and her missing eight-year-old son, that provides little consolation.