Very Sad Story - clearly we have to drive to the root cause of this...
THE ‘WORKING GIRLS OF QUETTA’ – CHILDREN
Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:51 AM
Filed Under: Islamabad, Pakistan
By NBC News Shahid Qazi and Carol Grisanti
QUETTA, Pakistan – The 11-year-old girl blushed as she walked into the car dealer’s showroom on Quetta’s Adalat Road in southwest Pakistan. Her 17-year-old cousin, eyes fixed to the ground, followed her. When the younger girl asked the owner for five rupees (6 cents), he pointed to the back room and told both girls to follow him.
A stocky man in his mid-forties with sallow skin and puffy eyes, he told the girls to lift their shirts – he wanted to see. "Very nice," the owner said. "They are getting bigger," he told the 17-year-old as he touched her.
The 11-year-old was excited as she told us the story; we had followed them inside the showroom pretending to be customers interested in renting one of the Land Cruisers parked inside. The owner had given them 10 rupees (12 cents), the girls told us, more money than they had asked for. Then, giggling, they ran away.
It’s dangerous to be seen following these girls – some of their clients are wealthy feudal land barons and powerful politicians, others are ordinary shopkeepers who will give money to the poor, but want to get something in return.
The girls are part of an alarming problem that gets little attention in Pakistan.
"Prostitution is rampant in all the big cities throughout the country," said Senior Superintendent of Police, Raja Shahid, who heads the police investigation unit in Rawalpindi, a city close to the capital Islamabad.
"There are loopholes in the laws that need to be changed. For example, in order to nab the culprits, we need to conduct a raid – but we cannot conduct a raid without permission from a magistrate. By the time we get the permission we have missed our chance," he said.
Calls for Islamic law
Others in the country have targeted the police’s inability to protect children as a reason to rally the people against the government.
"This is exactly why all the religious parties are campaigning for Shariah law," said Maulvi Noor Mohammed, a hard-line Islamic cleric, known for his ties to the Taliban.
Mohammed preaches "jihad" against the West to young boys in his sprawling madrassa (religious school) on the outskirts of Quetta. In an hour-long interview with NBC News, Mohammed argued that prostitution in Quetta is the perfect example of the corrupt morals of the secular, pro-Western Pakistan government and why it showed the need for a worldwide Islamic revolution.
"What these men are doing is against Islam and they must be punished accordingly," he said. "Islam guarantees protection for these young girls."
The last study on child prostitution in Pakistan was conducted by the government's Federal Bureau of Statistics more than 10 years ago. At that time, the study concluded that an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 children were involved in prostitution.
Today, there is no reliable data or updated figures, perhaps because it is a national shame.
Shahid Qazi/NBC News
Chaotic street scene in Quetta, Pakistan.
Poverty increases problem
Fathers often send their young daughters out on the streets to earn money for the family. The girls begin by begging – some as young as 3-years old – and as they grow older, they become part of the flourishing sex trade in this deeply conservative city in southwest Pakistan.
"The fathers of these girls are usually drug addicts or alcoholics and the family is impoverished," said Fauzia Baloch, a coordinator for the Aurat Foundation, an NGO that works for women’s rights in rural Pakistan. "We can act, often only when a member of the family comes forth and complains, usually of domestic violence, and then we provide shelter for the girls and their mothers."
On a recent afternoon, we sat outside a tea shop on Quetta’s Adalat Road and watched young girls move easily in and out of the crushing traffic – a chaotic scene of rickshaws, donkey carts piled high with bathtubs, rainbow-colored trucks decorated with gaudy paintings and men on bicycles. The girls made contact with the shopkeepers and with the men sitting in parked cars who were waiting for them.
"We know this is going on," said Inspector Malik Durrani of the Quetta police. "Even though prostitution is illegal in Pakistan, the police cannot arrest anyone without first lodging a case in the courts," he said. "[President Pervez] Musharraf changed the laws in 2007 to give women more rights but the laws are now so complex that unless the woman complains the police are powerless to act."
Life on the streets
One 30-year-old woman with piercing light blue eyes said she has worked the Adalat Road for 25 years. She goes by the name of Shin Khalai.
"I started begging when I was 5 years old," Khalai said. "My father was a drug addict and my mother sent me and my seven brothers and sisters out on the streets to beg. I am married now – my husband is a gambler and he knows I sleep around with other men but he wants the money I earn so he can keep on gambling."
Haji Naseem, another car dealer on Adalat Road, blames the city’s politicians and religious leaders. "Everyone knows what is going on with these children," he said. "No one bothers to stop it because our leaders have forgotten their duties to the people and are only after their own power and their own riches," he said. "We are being destroyed from within by moral corruption and greed."
"Look at them," Khalai pointed out three girls, as they walked down the street, dressed in colorful shalwar kameez – the term for traditional baggy trousers and long tunic shirts.
"They are the working girls of Quetta – those little children. What life do they have? This is no life for any of us," she said as she walked away – to go back to work.