• 02 Sep - 08 Sep, 2023
  • Wajiha Jawaid
  • Feature

For a nine-year-old girl, life is all about guriya, gudda, khel aur salehiyan. However, young Fatima Fariro confronted the unforgiving truths of life at this tender age. While her peers enjoyed secure playtimes indoors, she tragically lost her life while contributing to her family's financial needs.

Who was Fatima Fario and what had happened to her?
Fatima Fariro had been employed as a domestic servant at a haveli (mansion) owned by the locally influential Pir Asad Shah. A few weeks ago, her life was tragically cut short under circumstances shrouded in mystery. Strikingly, she was laid to rest without any official First Information Report (FIR) being filed. The situation gained public attention after a video depicting her deteriorating state circulated widely on social media. According to media reports, it is alleged that Fatima endured severe physical mistreatment and cruelty at the hands of her employer, Pir Asad Shah. These alleged actions have been pointed to as the catalyst for her untimely demise.

Following significant outcry from civil society, the government took affirmative steps to address the matter. Subsequently, a postmortem examination was conducted on the young girl who had passed away. Her remains were exhumed to facilitate the autopsy, and the preliminary findings from the postmortem affirmed the presence of indicators suggestive of rape, injuries, and child abuse inflicted upon the 10-year-old Fatima.

Asad Shah, who has been implicated in Fatima's alleged murder, was arrested following a public outcry driven by civil society's fervor and prompt reporting by mainstream media outlets. In response to a complaint lodged by her mother, Shabnam Khatoon, a legal case was initiated under Sections 302 (pertaining to intentional murder) and 34 (concerning acts carried out by multiple individuals sharing a common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) at the Ranipur police station.

During the initial court proceeding related to the case, an astonishing revelation was brought forward by Fatima's parents' attorney, Mir Imtiaz Memon. He disclosed that Asad Shah was allegedly associated with illicit activities on the dark web. According to Memon, Asad purportedly created inappropriate videos involving children, subsequently marketing and distributing these distressing materials on the Dark Web. This revelation has injected a fresh dimension into the case, demanding that law enforcement agencies treat it with utmost gravity in order to unveil and dismantle the suspected dark web operation.

In the most recent twist of events, the family of Fatima Fariro has encountered menacing death threats from influential figures within the Khairpur district. Notably, dacoits from the Katcha region have aligned themselves with prominent Pirs and extended their support to them. In a video message, they explicitly pledged their allegiance to these influential Pirs and issued an ultimatum to Fatima Fariro's family: withdraw from the case or brace for severe consequences.

SSDO conducted press conducted demanding a fair trial of Fatima Fariro's case

In pursuit of a just trial for the case, the Sustainable Social Development Organization (SSDO) held a press conference in Karachi, in collaboration with the Punjab Child Protection Bureau. This event also garnered backing from notable media figures such as Nadia Jamil, Mahira Khan, Ahsan Khan, and Freiha Altaf, who were gathered to raise voice against the heinous crime of child trafficking.

Sarah Ahmed, Chairperson of the Punjab Child Protection Bureau, underscored the significance of Fatima and Rizwana's cases as distressing illustrations of the repercussions of child labor and enslavement. She emphasized the necessity of these cases being treated as exemplars to act as deterrents, conveying a resolute message that such egregious acts will not be tolerated. Ahmed asserted that addressing child labor and enslavement mandates a united effort involving governmental bodies, law enforcement, civil society, and the media. She stressed that survivors of child trafficking and enslavement must receive comprehensive assistance encompassing physical, psychological, and societal rehabilitation.

Sarah Ahmed remarked, "A nation that fails to safeguard its children cannot progress." She noted the ongoing efforts of child protection agencies and authorities to shield children engaged in hazardous environments and those subjected to domestic abuse. However, she highlighted the imperative need for support from all pertinent stakeholders to proactively combat these issues.

Syed Kausar Abbas, Executive Director SSDO, while highlighting the grave concern on the rising cases of child trafficking and modern slavery said that the rising cases of child slavery and child trafficking demand our collective attention and action to ban child labor and combat child trafficking and slavery in Pakistan. He emphasized the need to build harmony among diversified legal frameworks catering the specific child rights violations including early child marriages, child labor, domestic labor, child trafficking, violence against children, and bonded labor traditions in Pakistan. Child domestic labor should be taken as a serious crime against the state, a cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable offense, and penalized through rigorous punishments. He added that sections 3 and 4 of the TIP Act provide for police to register such cases to ensure maximum penalization, however, it is strange that such cases of compelled child labor are not registered under the TIP Act.

Expressing strong emotions, Nadia Jamil discussed the present state of affairs in the country, noting that crimes against children have persistently existed, but they are now receiving heightened attention due to media coverage – a favorable development. Nevertheless, she pointed out that these issues tend to fade from public discourse once the Twitter trends subside. Describing the harrowing condition of child abuse survivors, Nadia emphasized that it takes years to help these children recover from their traumatic ordeals. She appealed to the media, urging them to refrain from probing these children about their past experiences, as recollecting those distressing memories could be incredibly challenging for them.

Nadia urged that collective effort is needed to combat with serious issues of child trafficking and domestic abuse of child labor. She also added that those perpetrating these heinous crimes are often the ones that hold great influence, power, and even political backing. As such, it becomes incredibly easy for them to avoid any sort of punishment, easily getting away with their crimes. She stressed that we need stronger crackdowns on sexual predators and ensure they get punished due to the full extent of the law. We need to make sure that we will not rest until the perpetrator is punished. We will not stop raising our voices till then.

Popular actress Mahira Khan said that she has promised herself to raise her voice for such serious issues daily. She added that her voice can attract a wider range of people so she would now use it for the betterment of society.

Ahsan Khan said that despite any hue and cry against it, this practice still endures. Worst of all, we can see from Rizwana’s case that even among those we perceive to be well-educated, they are observed to be the very worst offenders.

Frieha Altaf insisted that the story of these young girls is a testament to the urgency of addressing this issue and seeking justice for those who have suffered. We demand a thorough and impartial investigation into the Rizwana and Fatima case and Justice must be swift, ensuring that those responsible for their suffering are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

Fatima Fariro case has once again raised a question on the judicial system of our country. The nation is desperately waiting that the people involved in this crime should be given severe punishment that would serve as a lesson for such predators and they would think twice before committing such heinous crime.

Child trafficking is a grave and distressing issue in many parts of the world, including Pakistan. It involves the illegal trade and movement of children for various exploitative purposes, such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, child marriage, and other forms of abuse. Child trafficking is a violation of human rights and is considered a criminal offense in most countries, including Pakistan.

As per a report by UNICEF, approximately 3.3 million children in Pakistan find themselves ensnared in child labor, a situation that robs them of their childhood, well-being, and educational opportunities, thus consigning them to a future plagued by poverty.

In Pakistan, child trafficking is influenced by various factors such as poverty, lack of education, social inequality, political instability, and weak law enforcement. Children from marginalized communities are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to their disadvantaged circumstances. They might be kidnapped, lured with false promises of better opportunities, or even sold by their own families in some cases.

Efforts to combat child trafficking in Pakistan involve both government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working together to raise awareness, improve law enforcement, and provide support to victims. Some initiatives include:

Pakistan has laws in place to address child trafficking, including the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance 2002. The government has taken steps to strengthen these laws and align them with international standards. To protect these kids, the government needs to devise a policy to safeguard our little angels. Aggressive nationwide awareness campaigns must be run to educate the masses about child abuse and child trafficking. Our government should take the initiative to collect data on domestic helpers and register them through a platform to secure them. Interactive sessions with underprivileged parents must be conducted so that they will not use their kids to earn bread and butter for the rest of the family.

On an individual basis, we need to keep a check on our surroundings and in case, we see anyone torturing their domestic helpers we should immediately report it to the law enforcement agencies before it gets too late and once again an innocent lost his life after becoming a victim of child abuse and torture.