Growing Vulnerable Status of Girls in Pakistan

—by Zainab Zafar

Acceptance of societal concepts of children depicting the splitting image of innocence has been brutally abused over the last few decades. This innocence has been met with the idea that they are just as likely to be categorized as vulnerable citizens in Pakistan on a regular basis. On 8th of November-this year a ten year old girl’s body was found in a closed washroom of the G-11 Metro Bus Station in Islamabad. The girl was victim to sexual abuse before being strangled. Under these conditions children, especially girls, are found to be more likely to be subjected to forms of violence including of assault, bodily harm or even murder. The question then arises as to how we led to become a country that cannot protect someone as vulnerable as children.

Pakistan has been known to be a nation that has been unsafe for women. In 2021, the Global Gender Gap Report saw Pakistan ranking amongst the four worst performing countries. Out of 156 countries scorecard Pakistan ranked at 153 for health and survival, a testimony to show how brutal the situation for women and young girls is. Growingly this country has become tough for girls to survive in and for the near future; there is little hope for finding changes in this trend.

The social construction of ideas where we dub children to be innocent, especially young girls to be representatives of the pure has become an idea that leads to their gross exploitation. Girls are more likely to be subjected to violence in a country where those who have power over them have the idea of purity embedded into their minds. This ideology stretches along when we see UNICEF reporting in 2020 alone 21 percent of girls being married in Pakistan prior to the age of 18 and 3 percent of girls getting married before the age of 15. Under these statistics, we rank as sixth in the world for the highest number of child brides. A myriad of problems such as poverty, societal norms and mere normalization of patriarchal concepts has led to this to be just another growing number for us. Young girls are married off in order to repay debts, dispute resolution or even in traditions such as ‘watta satta’ whereby pairs of siblings are married off to another pair. These archaic practices do not take into regard the safety or wellbeing of these young girls but rather if it is questioned or slightly revolted against, it ends up in cases where we find similar facts to those of the body found on 8th November 2021. We cannot be a safe country for women and definitely not a safe country for young girls where we allow women to be married off at 16 or even 14 in some circumstances under statute.

It is every other day that we flip to the front page of newspapers or turn on the headlines to see another young girl’s body has been discovered in unusual places after they have suffered from unimaginable abuse. However, this unimaginable abuse was their reality and continues to be reality for many other girls like them. The case of Zainab Ansari was groundbreaking for us all because it shook us as a nation to see such a young girl be exploited but it also came as a shock when it required a nationwide outbreak or even international recognition for a country like Pakistan to bring justice to a six year old. At some level you come to question whether the court of law or any state institution would have taken adequate steps to ensure justice be served had the case not gained that sort of public exposure. We see a similar trend where the women of this country who grieve the death of just another one among them on a regular basis have to come out to the streets to show their grievance to ensure the case is even heard. We saw protests for Zainab Ansari, we saw it for the Motorway Incident, and we continue to see it for Noor Mukadam. However, what we should have been questioning is why we need hundreds to come out to make certain the law will ensure justice for the sexual assault and murder of a six year old.

While these cases depict the picture of how young girls are treated in Pakistan, we also see a growth in female infanticide. Even before birth these girls are subjected to gender bias. In the 21st century we still see women being abused for giving birth to a daughter and these very daughters are buried alive solely based on their gender. This abuse begins prior to birth and carries on until the very end. Once the gender is disclosed it is likely if the gender of the baby is not considered worthy the mother is subjected to horrendous circumstances, which not only hinder her health but the baby’s as well. This means that girls are victims to the patriarchy at as early as the age at which they are conceived.

While currently this country does not seem safe for women, we do continue to make progress. When we see justice through raising our voices, the justice families receive after women come and grieve on the streets is a testimony to the power of the people and how we can make swift changes within the system. Our growth in education for girls and women as well as their increase in employability has gone to show they are finding more space where they can be economically independent. Perhaps these changes should have come long ago and there is still a very long way to go until we find safe space for women and young girls, we are changing tides one-step at a time.

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