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PAKISTAN: Female child--victim of gender based violence and discrimination

Contributors: Amir Murtaza

On February 17, a Karachi based charity ambulance service informed that the bodies of five newborn female children were discovered on a deserted place in Korangi, a densely populated squatter settlement in Karachi. The discovery of newborn dead bodies has been a common happening in Pakistan and such occurrence never received any specific attention from policy makers; however, it is important to mention that only last week, according to many local newspapers, five female foetuses, aged between five and nine months, were found in another squatter settlements’ garbage dump.


Another aspect of this phenomenon is the increasing number of unwanted children, who are either strangulated and thrown or left at garbage dumps in the city to die. A leading philanthropic organization in the country has put cradles in public spaces across the country with an appeal not to kill these children but leave them in these cradles. There is definitely a need for the society as whole to realize the life of a child, without discriminating between a boy and a girl and give them equal opportunities to live a fulfilling life.

Samina Ahmed, a blogger and social activist, observed that frequent discovery of girl child bodies and female fetuses clearly shows that gender based discrimination is very much rife in this society. She further mentioned that gender based discrimination and violence is a common phenomenon in South Asia, including Pakistan, where women have been considered as a second grade citizen.

Abdul Qadir Bullo, President Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO), informed that gender based discrimination has been in practice in South Asian Subcontinent for centuries; however, lack of economic opportunities and increasing poverty are some of the factors responsible for growing discrimination, violence and neglect of girl child in this part of the globe. The President of Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO) observed that recent discovery of the body of a newborn female child or incident of surfacing of five female foetuses clearly show that survival of girl child has become questionable in lower economic class of the society. He further observed that, ''it is a fact that male child are more desired than female child in Asian Societies, including Pakistan, and such preference has enhanced abuse and discrimination against female child.''

Dr. Imrana Nadeen, a gynecologist, observed that surviving childbirth, either male or female, is itself an achievement in Pakistan as the country has very high mother and child mortality rate. She added that in such scenario and prevailing gender based discrimination, the chances of survival for female child are even worse than the prevailing child mortality rate.

In an article, ''Elimination of Unwanted Daughters'', it is stated that ''The sex ratios tilted so high in some areas of China and India that forced the governments to impose ban on ultrasound testing for the purpose of sex selection. However, the efficiency of such ban is extremely questionable as it is widely assumed that the ban has not helped in garnering desire results. No doubt, Pakistan is also guilty of such phenomenon and men are slowly outnumbering women. In a country where safe abortion is still not considered as a right to women, how one can expects the availability of any authentic data regarding sex-selective abortions. This lack leads us only to assume, but not to measure, that sex selective abortions are a reality in this country''.

Dr. Iftikhar Ahmed, Program Associate in a health focused international NGO, observed that in many poor and developing countries, the marginalization and abuse of girl child rights start before she takes birth. He added that during her life cycle she constantly faces violation of her education, health, nutrition, development and other rights. ''The patriarchal and feudal structure of Pakistani society coupled with economic dependence on men has made women an easy victim to physical, sexual and emotional violence and abuse,'' Dr. Iftikhar Ahmed concluded.

Salma, a domestic worker and mother of four daughters, lives in a squatter settlement in Karachi. Her husband, Abdul Rasheed, left her two years back when she gave birth to their fourth daughter. Salma with somber eyes informed, “When I returned home from the hospital with my new born daughter, I found that my husband is quite furious. I didn’t understand the reason of his anger but soon I discovered that birth of fourth daughter was the main reason of his anger. Within a week my husband asked me either to handover the newborn to any orphanage or he will give me divorce. I had preferred the second option and thus he deserted me in this cruel world. Now, I am living and surviving at my own but often thought that taking divorce was a wrong decision.”

Asif Haroon, a Karachi based journalist and researcher, informed that according to news reports most of the discovered dead bodies of newborn were female, which clearly shows a clear gender based violence and discrimination in this society. Asif Haroon further added that, “In a society where female child is largely considered as a liability and occurrence of such cases are accepted, at some extent. Therefore, we have not seen concrete actions from the policy makers to tackle the violation of right to life for girl child.”

Advocate Ashraf Salman observed that gender based discrimination and violence is not much visible in developed world; however, it is a common problem in poor and developing countries. The Karachi based lawyer further said that Convention on the Rights of the Child stated that, ''States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... to each child ... without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.... States Parties shall ensure ... the survival and development of the child.... States Parties recognize the right of the child to the ... highest attainable standard of health....; shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to ... health care services.... States Parties shall ... diminish infant and child mortality; ... ensure the provision of ... health care to all children.... States Parties shall take all effective ... measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children…''

Mohammad Anwar, an international development expert, pointed out that the culture of South Asian societies and endemic poverty are the two main reasons for present inferior status of women in this part of the globe. He observed that unlike developed world, where women have achieved a considerable equality in daily life, the South Asian, including Pakistani women are still struggling against violence, abuse, discrimination and neglect.

The issue of gender based violence and discrimination is a reality in Pakistan and it is hard to find any justification for the occurrence of such attitude in this country. Therefore, there is an urgent need to bring policies and place institutional mechanism to protect and promote women’s rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan and other UN and International Protocols and Conventions, the country has signed and ratified.



About the Author:
Amir Murtaza is a researcher and can be reached at amirmurtaza@hotmail.com

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The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

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