Does a child choose his or her religion during birth? No.
Who decides on a young child’s religion?
Why does religion play a painful role in the lives of children?
The history of Christianity in Pakistan is deep rooted. Although the population of Christians in Pakistan is controversial and no authentic statistical data in this regard is available; yet Nazir S. Bhatti, President, Pakistan Christian Congress claims that the Christian population had been almost 13 per cent of the country’s total population in the recent past years. But there are some recent data that states that the minority Christian population in Pakistan is the lowest in numbers [2.8 million people] making up of 1.6% [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Pakistan] of the total population which is 182.1 million [https://www.google.com/search?q=current+population+in+pakistan&ie=utf-8&.... The other minority groups are the Hindus and the Sikhs. This vast difference between the majority and the minority religious communities have always created discrimination by the majority to the minority, eventually leading towards depression, clashes, violence, and mostly sexual harassment and rape of children, girls and women.
Pakistani Christians have been serving the country in a tremendous way, since its emergence; but still they face religious, caste, employment, education and ethnic discrimination at all levels. Christian churches are often burnt, Christians harassed in numerous ways, where they face discrimination and become economically unprivileged, with low profile jobs such as sanitary, domestic jobs predestined to them.
Blasphemy law is another form of discrimination that results in the killings of minorities by fundamentalist extremists. Even though all kinds of discrimination affects the Christian’s prosperity, it is the educational discrimination which is a dreadfully serious issue for the future of these people.
Income and wealth inequalities in society have fragmented the socio-economic conditions of Christians. Almost 80 per cent Christians are living below the poverty line. Financial constraints necessitates parents for involving their children to earn a livelihood by doing awkward jobs such as begging, cleaning windshields of cars, flower selling, newspaper selling, and collecting and heaping garbage.
Why are these children on the streets? There is not, just one single reason for this question, but many. The reason varies from individual child to individual child’s situation. Poverty, negligence, breakdown of family, loss of one or both parents and many other reasons drive children towards a life on the streets. In Pakistan, it is assumed that there are almost more than one million children living, and there is no official data available in this regard. As a matter of fact, a large number of Christian children are on the streets and majority of them are involved in street crimes and the girl children are at high risk of prostitution.
Pakistani government does not pay attention to Christian community due to which such children do not enjoy their basic human rights. Owing to financial constraints, parents cannot meet their basic needs, which ruthlessly hampers their development and reinforce their depressed behavior, further exposing them to every kind of threat. The experiences of childhood determine a person’s character as an adult. These children lose the sympathy, social, emotional and moral support of other members of the society.
Asad [pseudonym], 13, a Christian child, works at a small hotel near Data Darbar in Lahore where truckers come for rest. He resides in Youhanaabad, a famous Christian colony of the provincial metropolis. His father had died when he was only five. He has two sisters and one brother. He helps his mother to feed her family. I could easily notice unfathomable emotions in his dark eyes.
“My day starts with immeasurable sadness and tears. I do not do what I want to do. I was nine when I was brought here to help my family make both ends meet. The day I was sent here, my mother was crying her eyes out, but she was helpless as we were spending our days and nights without food,” he mentioned when talking about his hardships of life.
It’s a stark truth that Pakistani Christians do not enjoy basic necessities of life. There is a huge cultural distrust between the Christians and the Muslims in Pakistan. It is not be a big surprise that minorities face discrimination at all levels. Low profile jobs impel their economic conditions to the depths of despair. The “Ghost of Hunger” haunts their homes, rendering them impuissant.
Samina [pseudonym], Asad’s mother, revealed that her husband was addicted initially to alcohol and later to Hashish.
Tears began to roll down her cheeks, making her a poster of dispiritedness, disappointment and frustration, when she stated, “He would always be surrounded by like-minded friends and ultimately the addiction caused his death. Look at the economic condition of our colony; you will find thousands of similar stories. I don’t want my child to do such odd job at this tender age, but this implacable life has compelled me to do so”.
Youhanabad is the largest majority Christian area in Lahore, with almost 200,000 inhabitants. The main occupations of people are pushing donkey carts, doing clerical jobs, nursing and house cleaning. Sanitation facilities are abysmal. Literacy rate is very low among boys as compared to the girls.
Huge number of youngsters are addicted to smoking, drinking and narcotics. Boys stand on roads, busily smoking, whereas in the evenings they gather at a selected point for hashish, alcohol and other similar illegal consumption and activities.
Majority of the females of this area are nurses by profession and this is mostly the only source of income to their families. Physical abuse is a normal activity faced most of the wives, and especially the females who work as domestics in houses.
“He beats me daily after consuming liquor. He is a beast. I hate him just like nothing,” said Azra [pseudonym], a domestic –maid, referring to the master of the house.
She added “I have to run the house, and hence my elder son, Nadeem [pseudonym] sells flowers on the busy streets of Lahore late in the evening hours. Earlier in the day, he goes to school. He wants to study; so he uses his earnings to meet his educational expenses”.
Once a child is on the streets, he becomes the most vulnerable prey for the merciless society. Pakistan though an Islamic country, the sexual abuses with children are a daily happening, even if the topic is a taboo in this ‘land of the pure’ – as how Muslims refer to it. This is the most horrible crime that could take place against children. In Pakistan, majority of abusers are truckers and child abuse is their main entertainment – and this abuse is not faced by only girl children, but also boy children.
“I was serving food at the hotel, when a driver asked me to serve him lunch in his truck. When I went to serve him food he made sexual assaults on me. I shouted for help, but to no avail. After a few days another driver did the same; and then again another; so now I don’t remember how many have treated me in this cruel way. Now this practice of facing these assaults have become part of my days’ duty. But this is not how I want to be treated; this is not what I want to be doing; I wanted to be respectable person with a reputable job; but the hotel pays me for bearing the harassing acts as well, and hence I am forced to accept and tolerate, as it will provide bread and butter to my family”, Asad shared his ordeal with a heavy heart.
This is not just one Asad’s story; one can find such stories around them every day. The dilemma for Christians in Pakistan is that they belong to poor and marginalized part of society. Christian community has been singled out for unequal and inferior treatment, simply because they are identified as minorities. The promises of the government towards the providence of uplifting the socio economic conditions of the minorities are still dreams.
The Christian families in Pakistan, fear to send their children to State owned schools, due to the reason that these schools have a strong Islamic curriculum, which is forced on all children. Also since the majority in these schools come from the majority religious community, the Christian children face difficulties and harassment in schools too.
Even whilst Christian schools are in existence, admissions to these schools as well as the educational expenses in these schools require a huge sum of money. Most of the Christian families being those who are from low economic background, are not in a position to afford high expenditures on education. Hence the bitter truth is that even these Christian schools have a 60% of Muslim pupils admitted in their schools with the big ransoms they receive from their families. Although the Christians living in the urban areas are able to receive good education, and a reasonable standard of living, those living in rural villages, and in city slums go neglected and forgotten. The children in these families become mostly vulnerable, and face number of trials in life to earn a living and survive without threats and death.
Children are the most valuable resource of the future. It is vital that these children receive a safe and standard life without discrimination. There is a need to invest on children in their early years to provide a foundation for future success that will ultimately guarantee economic and social benefits for the Christian community in the long run.
There are many unprivileged Christian families in Pakistan; and social support from society is very important for them. Education is a basic right of every child; hence there is a need to initiate basic Education Programme projects for children – especially the children from the minorities which also includes the Christian religious minority children. The programme should be comprehensive enough to develop not only their educational learning and skills, but also the children’s personality and leadership skills in every aspect. Psychological assistance, counseling, cultural and religious development should also be the part of education.
It is the accountability of the Pakistan government to intervene in the issue of Christian children in Pakistan, and make sure that these young community does not go ignored and mistreated. The government educational authorities should consider all children equal, and ensure that all school-going age children obtain their basic education without discrimination and harassment.
There are many different International Organizations and Non-Government Organizations operating in Pakistan. It will be untrue to think and false to say that these crimes against Children in Pakistan have not reached the attention of these international and service providing organizations. It is the responsibility of the international community as well to look into the sufferings of innocent children under the name of religion. The international community should be able to take effective measures to influence the Pakistan government and the duty bearers of these unethical systems and its consequences prevailing in the country and the harm it is creating to their future generation – the children