The author is a Lincoln’s Inn barrister practicing in Islamabad and holds a degree in Economics and Literature from Bryn Mawr College, US
On June 2, the Pakistani police, in an increasingly rare display of efficiency, arrested Fatima, an Afghanistan-qualified lady doctor working for a private hospital in Peshawar, after she attempted to sell a five-month-old baby boy to an undercover policewoman. What was perhaps even more shocking than the incident itself was the fact that, according to the police, not only had Fatima sold several other infants, both legitimate and illegitimate, but she was unrepentant, indeed defiant, because she believed she was “saving the future of the babies”.
Reading Fatima’s self-righteous comments, I found myself wondering what the child — if it could speak — would have to say about the transaction of which it was the unwitting subject matter or even what had become of the child in the aftermath of Fatima’s arrest. Interestingly, however, not only were the news reports silent in this regard but there was no outpouring of public outrage on the injustice done to an individual life that had neither the opportunity nor the capacity to defend itself!
I must admit, I am particularly sensitive to children being removed from their parents. Someone very close to me was allowed by her parents to be ‘adopted’ by a childless aunt. Despite the fact that the aunt was prosperous and loved the girl (even after she had a son of her own), this girl, while growing up, felt an unexplained insecurity which, when she discovered the truth of her parentage, transformed into a full-fledged sense of abandonment that not only remained stamped on her psyche, despite many subsequent positive experiences, but also adversely impacted her intimate relationships. If this form ofadoption, which is reasonably prevalent in Pakistan, and which offers perhaps the most secure environment to a child removed from her parents, can be quite so painful, how much more traumatic would be the likely effect of a removal to an unknown fate?
For despite the police charging Fatima for “selling for the purpose of prostitution” — heinous as it may be — we do not know the real purpose behind her business. Child trafficking is rampantinternationally and generally involves exploitation of children from Third World countries for sexual activity, child pornography, forced labour, slavery, removal of organs, illicit international adoption, early marriage, recruitment as child soldiers, beggars, athletes (such as camel jockeys or football players) and even for recruitment by cults, possibly as potential sacrifices! In our local context, it is quite likely that children sold in this manner may be easily groomed as potential terrorists.
Recognising the gravity, not to mention the sheer injustice, of child trafficking, the United Nations signed the Protocol to Prevent and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children which came into force in 2003 and to date has been signed by 117 countries.Pakistan, however, is not one of the signatories. It is therefore not surprising that Pakistani police, in merely framing a charge of ‘selling for prostitution’ against Fatima, would take either a deliberately narrow view of the situation (perhaps to protect Fatima’s allegedly influential protectors) or reveal their ignorance of the enormity of the situation and thereby allow Fatima an opportunity to escape if the specific charge of prostitution remains unproven.
Whilst Fatima may be released, and after allowing sufficient time for the scandal to die down, continue her activities under a new guise, we will never know what became of the children she sold. The luckiest of them may have been reunited with their families (provided there are families that they may be returned to and who themselves are not willing beneficiaries of the crime) whilst others may only live as fading memories or mere statistics. Perhaps one day we may encounter some of them on the street as they press against our car windows begging for alms or selling flowers, or perhaps someday one of them may simply be the body part gruesomely photographed in the aftermath of an attack by a child suicide bomber. But we will never know what they suffered, because these children could not speak.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2011.