BIRTH AND CHILD RITES IN PAKISTAN
According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,”“Sunni Muslims in Pakistan observe a number of Islamic life cycle rituals concerning birth, male circumcision, matrimony, and death. While there are certain regional variations, these rituals share similarities throughout the country. The birth of children is celebrated with the gathering of relatives and feasting. A mullah is summoned to whisper "Allah-u-Akbar" ("God is great") into the child's ear, establishing its Muslim identity. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]
“According to the sunnah, boys are circumcised before they reach puberty, with the ritual signifying a transition from childhood to manhood. In more recent times, however, infants are circumcised in the hospital or at home after birth. Failure to perform circumcision is considered an act of blasphemy under Pakistani law. There are no comparable Islamic puberty rites for girls.
“Sweets are distributed as part of the celebration of the birth of a new baby in a family, and an animal sacrificial offering is also made — one goat for a girl and two for a boy, with the animal meat distributed among the poor or among friends and relatives. Food also is involved in a ceremony celebrating a child becoming six or seven months old. Sisters and relatives place rice pudding in the infant's mouth using a silver spoon, and a drop of chicken broth is also put in the mouth. After this ceremony the adults then hold an elaborate dinner concluded with a special dessert called kheer.”
Children Statistics for Pakistan
Under-five mortality rate: 67.2 deaths per 1,000 births. [Source: UNICEF DATA data.unicef.org]
Children under age 5 whose births are registered (percent): 42
Women aged 20-24 years who were first married or in union by age 18 (percent): 18
Children aged 5-17 years engaged in child labour (percent): 13
Adjusted net attendance rate, one year before official primary entry age (percent): 61
Adjusted net attendance rate, primary education (percent): 62
Adjusted net attendance rate, lower secondary education (percent): 33
Adjusted net attendance rate, upper secondary education (percent): 33
Completion rate, primary education (percent): 60
Youth literacy rate (15 — 24 years) (percent): 75
[Source: UNICEF DATA data.unicef.org]
Proportion of under-five children with suspected pneumonia taken to health provider (percent): 71
Proportion of children under five years old with diarrhoea receiving oral rehydration salts (percent): 37
Percentage of infants who received three doses of DTP vaccine (percent): 75
Percentage of children who received the second dose of measles containing vaccine: 71
[Source: UNICEF DATA data.unicef.org]
Under-five mortality rate (U5MR), deaths per 1,000 live births: 67
Number of under-five deaths: 399,418
Infant mortality rate (IMR), deaths per 1,000 live births: 56
Neonatal mortality rate (NMR), deaths per 1,000 live births: 41
Under-five mortality rate (U5MR), deaths per 1,000 live births (male): 63
Under-five mortality rate (U5MR), deaths per 1,000 live births (female): 72
[Source: UNICEF DATA data.unicef.org]
Maternal and Newborn Health
Proportion of women aged 15-49 who received postnatal care within 2 days after giving birth (percent): 62
Antenatal care coverage for at least four visits (percent): 51
Caesarean section (percent): 22
Proportion of women 20-24 years old who gave birth before age 18 (percent): 7
Number of women age 15-49 years with a live birth delivered in a health facility (percent): 66
Births who had their first postnatal checkup within the first two days after birth (percent): 64
[Source: UNICEF DATA data.unicef.org]
Early initiation of breastfeeding (within one hour of birth) (percent): 20
Exclusive breastfeeding (<6 months) (percent): 48
Continued breastfeeding rate (20-23 months) at one year (percent): 53
Prevalence of moderate and severe stunting (percent): 38
Vitamin A supplementation (full) (percent): 92
Proportion of households consuming iodized salt (percent): 69
[Source: UNICEF DATA data.unicef.org]
Child Rearing in Pakistan
According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “The addition of a new baby to a Muslim family is seen as a great blessing and there are a wide variety of ceremonies that take place both at the birth and throughout the different stages of infancy. To help families with infant care there are a number of child health centers throughout the country. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]
“Most Pakistani families consider it the privilege of the grandfather to name the baby. Another tradition is that the first garment for a baby's layette is made from an old shirt that had belonged to the grandfather. The child is usually named within forty days after birth and thus is generally known by a nickname until then. A baby boy's hair is shaved off, with the belief that this will then ensure thick growth throughout life. The shorn hair is weighed and balanced against silver, and that silver is then given to the poor.
Pashtun Rites of Passage
The Pashtuns (Pathans) are an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. Each child of a Muslim family is a Muslim by birth; therefore, all Pashtun are Muslims by birth. After a baby's birth, Pashtun whisper the call for prayer in the baby's ear. The male circumcision ceremony used to be held when a boy was seven years old, but now it is held at the age of about one week and is merged with the birth celebration.
“Male and female children are taught the prayers at an early age by parents or grandparents. In addition to the profession of faith and the rituals of prayers, preschool children are taught about the other obligations of Islam: charity, fasting, and pilgrimage. Prayers and fasting officially start with sexual maturity, but in practice they begin much earlier.
Circumcisions are performed when boys are seven. This is sometimes called the Jewish custom. Other important rites and observances, such as funerals, are generally in line with those of Islam. After a funeral, the deceased's relatives gather at the grave on the first few Fridays and on the fortieth day after the death, and they observe the first year's anniversary of the death with a final memorial ceremony.
Growing Up Pashtun in Modern Pakistan
Raza Wazir, a Pashtun, wrote in New York Times: “I was born in the late 1990s in Khushaly, a village in northern Waziristan circled by blue and black mountains about 30 miles from the Durand Line, which messily demarcates the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Most people in the area were subsistence farmers, cultivating wheat in winters and corn in summers. Some ran small stores in Mir Ali, a nearby town of about 20,000. The economic precariousness forced a substantial number of men to leave for distant lands as migrant workers. I was 5 when my father left for Dubai to work as a laborer. [Source: Raza Wazir, New York Times, March 9, 2018]
“I lived with my mother, a sister and a brother in a mud-brick house. Our days began with the morning call to prayer. After the prayers we returned home and drank tea with milk. Pakistan might have had a nuclear bomb, but my people couldn’t afford breakfast. Over the years, men from Waziristan and other tribal areas like my father sent home remittances and nourished dreams of a better life for their children. Thanks to these remittances, thousands of students in Waziristan in the mid- and late 1990s were able to enroll in modest private schools, which were an improvement on the abysmal government-run schools.
“My father worried that I would get caught up in the war. In the spring of 2004, I left my village with him to attend high school in Peshawar, the largest city in northwestern Pakistan. Every day I wondered whether my family and friends back home were alive, whether they were safe. Newspapers ran cryptic reports about the violence and the deaths in Waziristan. Phones remained cut off for weeks. “The war continued. After graduating from high school in Peshawar, I moved to a public college in Lahore in 2010 to study literature. The seductive, sprawling metropolis of Lahore was strikingly different from the war-ravaged Peshawar and Waziristan.
“My Pashtun ethnic origin, my being from Waziristan, would turn me into a target for racial profiling. The prejudice and suspicion against ethnic Pashtuns like me intensified after the tribal areas became the base for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, whose bombing campaign killed hundreds in Pakistan’s cities. One night several policemen barged into my dorm room, which I shared with three other students, ethnic Punjabis. After the policemen looked at our identity cards, they took me aside and rifled through my books and my belongings for incriminating evidence. Yet I made new friends, found inspiring teachers and went to diverse social and academic gatherings in Lahore. A new world seemed possible.”
“An operation by the Pakistani Army against militants in the tribal areas in 2014 displaced around a million people. The process of return began in 2016, and military authorities formulated new rules of passage. To visit or to return to live in Waziristan and a few other districts, you needed more than a Pakistani national identity card. You had to produce identification called a Watan Card. I got my Watan Card last March. On it, apart from my biographical details and a photograph, there is a drawing of the Khyber Pass and the abbreviation N.W.A., for North Waziristan Agency. It marks me and other residents of the region as separate from the full citizens of Pakistan.”
Child Labor in Pakistan
The use of child labor in Pakistan is widespread. Bonded child labor, where an employer keeps the child working to pay off a debt of the parent, is illegal but still affects hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children. Little has been done to enforce child labor laws. In 1999, the United Nations set up 300 schools in eastern Pakistan to encourage children to go to school rather than work.
An estimated 8 to 10 million children, or one quarter of all the children between 5 and 15, work in Pakistan in textile factories, mines, brick kilns, carpet-weaving factories, small industries, agricultures and homes as servants. They have been abused in low-paying carpet weaving centers. In the mid 1990s, between 500,000 to 1 million Pakistani children aged 4 to 14 worked as full-time carpet weavers. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World, The Gale Group, Inc., 2002]
Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani boy, became an indentured servant when he was sold into slavery at age four by his parents and shackled to a carpet loom. The boy later escaped and organized a movement to protects working children. He became a child labor crusader at 10, saying he wanted to be "the Abraham Lincoln of his people." At the age of 12 he was shot dead in his village. People in the carpet industry were suspected in the crime. It was said he was murdered by a villager he surprised having sex with a donkey.
Some children work 14 hour days making soccer balls. In Karachi 11-year-olds dig out bits of precious metals from computer parts, Washington established a program in Pakistan’s soccer ball and rug industry to prevent children by banning workers younger than 15 and requiring companies to provide education for former child laborers.
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: Although most Pakistani children work in the agricultural sector, a large number of children work in urban centers weaving carpets, manufacturing surgical instruments, and producing sporting goods for export. A 1992 UNICEF-Government of Pakistan study reported that 90 percent of the 1 million workers in the carpet industry are children, many of whom began working in the industry before 10 years of age. Just as the data on Pakistan's labor force is unreliable, figures on child labor remain somewhat unclear. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that child labor has assumed massive proportions in Pakistan. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]
Child Slavery in Pakistan
Pakistan has the third highest population of such labourers, behind India and China, according to the Global Slavery Index. According to AFP: “Campaigners estimate there are more than two million Pakistanis trapped in a vicious cycle of debt bondage to factory owners that continues for generations, a practice often referred to as modern slavery. [Source: AFP, May 12, 2017]
According to the U.S. Department of State: As reported over the last five years, Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The country’s largest human trafficking problem is bonded labor, in which an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment is exploited, ultimately entrapping other family members, sometimes for generations. Bonded labor is concentrated in Sindh and Punjab provinces, but also occurs in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, in agriculture and brick-making and, to a lesser extent, in fisheries, mining, and handicraft- and carpet-making. Some feudal landlords and brick kiln owners affiliated with political parties use their influence to protect their involvement in bonded labor. [Source:U.S. Department of State, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report]
Children are bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped and placed in organized begging rings, domestic servitude, small shops, brick kilns, and sex trafficking. Begging ringmasters sometimes maim children to earn more money. NGOs report boys are subjected to sex trafficking around hotels, truck stops, bus stations, and shrines. Illegal labor agents charge high recruitment fees to parents in return for employing their children, some of whom are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Trafficking experts describe a structured system for exploiting women, girls, and LGBTI individuals in sex trafficking, including offering victims for sale in physical markets. Observers report police accept bribes to ignore prostitution in general, some of which may include sex trafficking. Women and girls are sold into forced marriages; in some cases, their new “husbands” prostitute them in Iran or Afghanistan. In other cases, including some organized by extra-judicial courts, girls are used as chattel to settle debts or disputes. Non-state militant groups kidnap children, buy them from destitute parents, or coerce parents with threats or fraudulent promises into giving their children away; these armed groups force children to spy and fight, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s large number of IDPs, due to natural disasters and domestic military operations, are vulnerable to trafficking.
Pakistani men and women migrate voluntarily to the Gulf states and Europe for low-skilled employment — such as domestic service, driving, and construction work; some become victims of labor trafficking. False job offers and high recruitment fees charged by illegal labor agents or sub-agents of licensed Pakistani overseas employment promoters entrap Pakistanis into sex trafficking and bonded labor. Some Pakistani children and adults with disabilities are forced to beg in Iran. Pakistan is a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor — particularly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Women and girls from Afghanistan, China, Russia, Nepal, Iran, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan are reportedly subjected to sex trafficking in Pakistan. Refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Burma, as well as religious and ethnic minorities such as Christians and Hazaras, are particularly vulnerable to trafficking in Pakistan.
Third of Children in Southern Punjab Working, Many in Brick Kilns
Reporting from Sahiwal in the Punjab, Shafiq Butt of Dawn wrote: Around 31,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 work at 730 brick kiln industries as child labourers in Sahiwal Division alone, according to the Insan Dost Association (IDA) in a recently study conducted in three districts — Pakpattan, Sahiwal and Okara (the three districts make up Sahiwal Division). [Source: Shafiq Butt, Dawn, June 13, 2013]
“The IDA, a social welfare organization, conducted the study to gauge the demographic of kiln labourers and the brick kiln industry in the region. Significantly, hardly any brick kiln industry is registered with either the local labour or social security department. IDA Exective Director Anjum Matu told Dawn.com that around 11,000 children are working in Sahiwal district, 13,000 in Okara district and 7,000 in Pakpattan district. The survey also revealed that most of these children are working at kilns along with their families.
“Essentially, these families are bonded labourers. Matu explained that poverty forces kiln labourers' parents to include their children in the work. He added that 30 per cent of our country’s total population lives below the poverty line with people depriving of basic necessities like clothing, shelter, food, education and medication. “It is the children of these people who are forced to become workers in order to survive,” he stressed.
“The IDA executive director further said that an education system divided along class lines was another reason for the high levels of child labour in the region. Around 30 per cent of children were forced into labour in Southern Punjab, which is the highest ratio of child workers in Pakistan. One problem identified by the IDA in rectifying this state of affairs is the non-implementation of laws meant to root out child labour in Pakistan.”
Child at Punjab Slave Camps
Asif Chaudhry wrote in Dawn: “Traumatised, Khalil Ahmad has asked his father to arrange home schooling until he is strong enough to face the world. It has been 11 days since he was rescued from his ‘master’ in Mandi Bahauddin district, to whom he had been sold by his kidnappers. Now, though he may be physically free, the fear and hurt for this 12-year-old are permanent. He has harrowing memories from his time in captivity, and over these past few days has not once ventured outside his home. [Source: Asif Chaudhry, Dawn, August 2, 2016]
“Khalil was one of 13 children who were kidnapped or had gone missing from Lahore last month. Of them, he is the only one to have been recovered safely. He disappeared on July 14 from his residence in Mughalpura, and endured a week-long ordeal. “They forced me to work as a helping hand at weddings, washing dishes etc,” he tells Dawn. The slave drivers who had got their labour so cheap didn’t take kindly to sluggish work. “Later in the night they would beat workers who they thought were not giving their 100 per cent.”
“The child was kept in a dingy, filthy room at a place he describes as a “factory owned by an influential man”. The boys were in the charge of an elderly man from the north-western part of the country, according to Khalil’s understanding. “He would escort us to and from the workplace daily,” he says. “We were locked up for the night.” He adds that the boys were strictly told not to talk to strangers at the workplace.
Searching for a Kidnaped Child Slave in Pakistan
Asif Chaudhry wrote in Dawn: “Meanwhile, Khalil’s parents lived through a nightmare of their own. “The disappearance of my son had landed on me and my sick wife like a bombshell,” says his father, Mohammad Alam. They searched for the boy desperately and eventually sought help from the police. [Source: Asif Chaudhry, Dawn, August 2, 2016]
“Mercifully, the break for which some parents await a lifetime came early in this case. “On the third day [after Khalil had gone missing] I got a call from an unknown man who said he could arrange a telephonic conversation with my son,” Mohammad explains. This was a huge relief, giving the despairing family hope that Khalil was still alive. The caller asked for Rs5,000 sent through a mobile payments platform. “He asked me to arrange another Rs50,000 for information on Khalil’s whereabouts and then disconnected after warning me against telling the police about it.”
“Mohammad had few options. He didn’t simply have the resources to meet the demand; so he went to the police. “After seeking permission from the police high command, we traced the caller. We learned that the caller was frequently changing locations,” says Abid Bhatti, who is in charge of the investigation section at the Mughalpura police station. “Finally, helped by evidence gathered, a night raid was planned. A police team went knocking at the doors of a house in Badami Bagh and arrested two men, Mohammad Aslam and Nasir Shah, who used to supply young boys for labour.” The police say that they also recovered from the place three kidnapped boys the criminals were planning to hand over to other parties the next morning.
“According to the police, during interrogation Aslam revealed that he had sold Khalil to a factory owner from Mandi Bahauddin. He said he had been working for many people in various districts, providing them with boys aged between some 10 and 15 years as “cheap labour”. As per the police inquiries, these men initially used to abduct runaway boys from the Lahore railway station, Data Darbar, Badami Bagh and Minar-i-Pakistan. However, as the demand for manpower increased, they turned to kidnapping. “During the past two years, they abducted and supplied over 50 children from various parts of the city,” says the police officer.
The police say they recovered 30 captives, including six children, from the Mandi Bahauddin factory. “Khalil was also there,” says officer Abid, adding that such a network of criminals and modus operandi has been unearthed for the first time. The police team also arrested the owner of the factory, Nasir Jutt.
The Punjab police figures also speak of the intensity of the issue. Submitted to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a suo motu case, these figures show that 767 children were either kidnapped or went missing in Punjab during the first six months of 2016. The highest number of children vanished from Lahore, followed by Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Sheikhupura. Of them, 52 are yet to be recovered. In 2015, the report says, 41 children of the total 1,134 are still missing. Furthermore, 139 children who disappeared between 2011 and June 2016 were not reunited with their families. No one is aware of what happened to them and in what conditions they may be living. Despite this, the police treat the disappearance of children as a socio-economic issue rather a crime — perhaps since most victims come from poor families and low-income areas.
Cash Handouts and Schooling for Pakistani Child Slaves
AFP reported: “Former Pakistani child labourers make their way home past a brick kiln after attending classes at a school on the outskirts of Lahore, following a scheme that gave cash to their parents A government cash-incentive scheme has helped place almost 90,000 underage Pakistani brick kiln workers into school, officials said Friday, an initiative aimed at easing the long-standing problem of indentured labour. [Source: AFP, May 12, 2017]
“Under the terms of the Punjab provincial government scheme, which began in January 2016, nearly 88,000 child brick kiln workers were selected for a stipend comprising an initial US$20 per child, followed by a recurring monthly payment of US$10. The initative "lowered the opportunity cost of not sending children to school... and families were able to mobilise this stipend to pay their debts," a spokesman for Punjab's education minister Rana Mashhood said. Eleven-year-old former Pakistani child labourer, Shumaila Bibi, speaks to AFP during an interview at a school on the outskirts of LahoreOfficials now hope to extend the US$9 million scheme, with monitoring assisted by Britain's government aid agency, to other areas where underage labour is prevalent.
“Teachers at a government school on the outskirts of Punjab provincial capital Lahore said the recently freed child workers — previously exposed to noxious smoke, brick dust, and fierce sun that pushes summer temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius — made for the most eager learners. Fauzia Elahi, the school's headteacher, said many of the 40 ex-brick kiln workers at her school initially had teething problems adjusting to their new life, but soon overcame them. "They are brilliant students, and now they are gaining knowledge and along with that they are gaining social skills," she said.
“Critics have questioned the viability of an open-ended cash transfer scheme, however, and say not enough is being done to implement existing laws against bonded labour, such as arresting kiln owners who employ indentured workers.The scheme has removed almost 90,000 children from dangerous brick kilns and made it possible for them to attend school But Fasi Zaka, a development consultant, said: "Those things weren't solving the problem over 20 years. Legal protections are hard to come by for people in some rural areas, and here you're incentivising the parents."
Shumaila Bibi, a 11-year-old student at the Lahore school, began working at a brick kiln with her brothers and sisters four years ago after their father was injured in an accident. "Nobody wants to work in the kiln, we do it out of necessity," her mother Shamim Bibi said. "But I'm really happy with this help that we're getting and that Shumaila is back in school. She will finish her education and go on to become a teacher."
Teenagers and Bullying in Pakistan
Age structure: 0-14 years: 36. 01 percent (male 42,923,925/female 41,149,694)
15-24 years: 19.3 percent (male 23,119,205/female 21,952,976)
[Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]
Unemployment, youth ages 15-24: total: 7.8 percent; male: 8.2 percent; female: 6.8 percent (2018 est.); compared with other countries in the world: 145. =
“Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the best-known documentary filmmaker in Pakistan, and winner of two Oscars and three Emmys., began her career as a journalist. Alexis Okeowo wrote in The New Yorker: “Her most memorable story was about the sons of wealthy feudal lords at schools in Karachi who ran a bullying ring: they went to parties with guns and, if they weren’t allowed inside, fired them into the air. They would beat up students, tear their clothes, drive them around for hours, and shave their heads before releasing them.” Another piece was “about students who smoked weed — a taboo subject that shocked the parents.” [Source: Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker, April 9, 2018]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022