Showered with praise, Pakistan also faces dark clouds of shame

There are a few children whose plight over the last few weeks has highlighted the sad state of affairs when it comes to children’s rights and child protection laws in Pakistan.

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It’s been a mixture of triumphs and trials for Pakistani children these past few weeks.

Two-hundred-and-thirty children from 19 countries competed for 10 days at the recently concluded Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the Pakistani team came in third place. The tournament is associated with the global movement Save the Children, which aims to provide street children with protection and opportunities.

The young footballers from the town of Lyari, Karachi, were lauded for their excellent overall performance, but particularly for their stupendous victory over the Indian team (13-0). Overnight heroes, the children were showered with adulation and cash prizes, including 200,000 Pakistani rupees (Dh7,600) from the Sindh Assembly and 100,000 rupees each from Pakistan People’s Party – the leading political group from the province of Sindh.

Though these don’t seem to be big amounts, for those children living below the poverty line, it goes a long way. Perhaps even more important than the monetary reward is the recognition they have received and the doors their victory has opened for their future. The Pakistani government has already committed to taking responsibility for the children’s education – a luxury that could hardly be afforded by their parents. It’s been heartening to see the little athletes get their due.

On the other hand, there are children whose plight has highlighted the sad state of affairs when it comes to children’s rights and child protection laws in the country.

Earlier this month, Amanullah, from the small town of Chichawatni, Sahiwal, took his 11-year-old daughter, Musarrat, to the hospital where she had typhoid diagnosed. When she didn’t get better in a few days, a neighbour suggested taking her to the local cleric for “spiritual healing”.

Sarfaraz wanted 1,500 rupees to exorcise the demons he claimed possessed the little girl. The trusting father paid up and left the girl with the cleric. Little did he know his daughter would be severely beaten and her feet doused in kerosene and set alight.

The girl’s screams brought the neighbours to the scene, who reported seeing the girl’s feet on fire. The cleric, of course, fled and is still at large.

And last week in Lahore, a 9-month-old was arrested and presented in court on charges of attempted murder.

Baby Mohammad Musa was accused of trying to kill police officers during a neighbourhood clash. In a series of bizarre events that drew the country’s – and the world’s – attention to Pakistan’s severely flawed legal system, the baby was even fingerprinted and presented in court, where he sat in his grandfather’s lap drinking milk from a bottle. The police later decided not to pursue the allegations and the judge dismissed the charges. This may be a first, but what is the guarantee that this will be the last? And what’s next? That such allegations can be made and entertained in a court of law is farcical.

So while the government lauds the little footballers, let them also take a look at a system that lets a 9-month-old be accused of attempted murder and fails to apprehend a man who beats and burns a child in the name of spiritual healing.

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai