ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Forced marriages at a young age. Teenage Hindu girls converted to Islam against their will. Children sold into servitude.
These stories often occupy the headlines in the Pakistani media. Now a new report backs up what was obvious: Pakistan is an increasingly dismal place to be a kid.
The report from one of Pakistan’s leading child advocacy groups, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, presents an overwhelmingly bleak picture. But solutions are not easy to come by. Under the country’s constitution, the federal government cannot impose blanket child-protection regulations on the provinces, officials say.
More than a third of the nation’s population age 5 to 9 — about 7 million children — is not enrolled in school, the report found. Floods that cause mass displacements and damaged schools compound the problem, adding 1.8 million children to that total.
Pakistan is also the only country in the world where polio rates are increasing.
In 2005, there were 28 reported cases of polio in the nation of 180million. The number increased to 197 reported cases reported in 2011.
There are 35 cases so far this year, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, but that might rise. Taliban leaders have issued fatwas against the administration of polio drops in parts of the tribal areas.
Foreign aid workers have increasingly been leaving the country, citing dangerous conditions. This creates even more vulnerability for children.
Pakistan is among the five most dangerous countries in the world for kidnapping, the advocacy group’s report said, with about 7,000 child abductions reported in 2011 — 3,090 of which occurred in the southern city of Karachi.
Victims are reportedly transported throughout the country and trafficked for use in begging rings, forced to work as child prostitutes or used as camel jockeys or in domestic servitude. Poverty-stricken parents also reportedly relinquish their children to militant groups who groom them for use as suicide bombers.
Only 49 percent of children have completed primary education in Pakistan (59 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls). While 67 percent of children in urban areas have completed primary education, only 40 percent of children in rural areas have done the same.