Child Rights and Child Protection- VISION’s Journey

In 1995, VISION brought together a group of teachers, medical professionals and celebrities seeking to help parents recognize telltale signs of abuse and molestation in children. We wanted parents to understand that while they guarded their children from strangers, sexual predators could just as easily wear the guise of friends or family. We sought to help create safer home environments for children, to prevent their abuse at the hands of the people they knew and trusted.

At the same time, VISION’s early work with the transgender community in Lahore was revealing troubling patterns of childhood homelessness. Many members of the trans community we spoke with had been turned out of their homes by their families because they defied behavior norms, or their behavior was deemed aberrant.

Once these children were on the street, they were at the mercy of an unforgiving, harsh environment and manipulative adults. Trans children were able to find a sanctuary of sorts in the households of gurus (teachers). But, as we probed deeper into the issue, we became aware of the greater problems facing all children on the street, irrespective of their sexuality.

Realizing that getting children off the streets would require trust-building with the children, their families, and local communities, VISION enlisted the aid of local and international partners to conceive and implement drop-in centers and shelter projects.

Our immediate goal was to get children off the streets and into safer spaces. In the long term, VISION aimed to reintroduce street children to a safe environment, and to facilitate access to practical skills training and apprenticeships, to help wean them away from drugs, petty crime, and exploitation rings.

For over 23 years, we successfully rehabilitated and supported street children in cities such as Swat, Murree, Abbottabad and Lahore.

Our child rights and child protection projects go beyond research, outreach and drop-in shelters. Since 2001, VISION has actively campaigned for child rights and child protection in Pakistan. In addition to arguing for nation-wide implementation of the Covenant on the Rights of the Child, VISION works with allies and partners to bring attention to the illegal trafficking of children for sexual and commercial exploitation.

VISION has documented all its studies and projects, including its outreach and rehabilitation work with street children through drop-in centers, shelters and education centers, creating a considerable library of research and behavioral study. VISION makes this expertise available to other organizations seeking to replicate our successes or to build upon them.

Lahore 1995: VISION was a group of like-minded individuals brave enough to highlight the tabooed issue of Child Sexual Abuse(CSA) at home, and the importance of protecting children anywhere and everywhere. The journey thus begun, led to the Destitute Children’s Act of 2004 in the province of Punjab, Pakistan.

Hath Mein Hath project (Hand-in-Hand)

In 2004, VISION began a 7-year partnership with Group Development (E.U), and Funds for Global Human Rights (FGHR) to render assistance to homeless children living on the streets. These are children who have either run away from home, or find themselves on the street for one reason or another, where they may face violence and exploitation.

During this time, VISION reached out to 7,000 to 8,000 children, per our very conservative estimate. In spite of challenges stemming mainly from the absence of supportive state infrastructure, VISON has been successful in reuniting approximate 1,750 to 2,000 of these children with their families.

VISION has also provided safe shelter to numerous children, serving as a passage for these children to transition off the streets and sometimes reconnect with their homes and families. In addition to this, VISION provided healthy meals, and a safe, nurturing environment where incoming children could engage in age-appropriate recreation, and informal education.

VISION began its outreach to street children in Lahore, later expanding its work to tourist hubs, Abbottabad and Murree. Here, VISION noticed a correlation between the influx of visitors with seasonal tourism, and increased numbers of non-local children on the streets. Keep reading to learn more about VISION’s work in these cities.

VISION has been nominated as a lead agency to implement two initiatives on child rights in the National Action Plan by National Commission on Children and Women Development (NCCWD). The Lahore project was also approved for a renewed three year grant by European Commission (EU) for 2013-14.
2004: Hath Main Hath Lahore, Drop-in Centre
2004: Hath Main Hath Lahore, Drop-in Centre
2007: Hath Main Hath Lahore, Drop-in Centre
2007: Hath Main Hath Lahore, Drop-in Centre


Promoting child rights and child protection in Abbottabad

VISION’s initial research in Abbottabad showed large increases in the numbers of non-local street children corresponding with seasonal tourism. It appeared that children of varying ages were being moved into the city as it filled with tourists, to maximize earning opportunities through hawking and product sales.

During peak tourism seasons, we documented more children, girls and boys alike, on the streets selling everything from chewing gum to cheap trinkets and souvenirs. We also noticed people exhibiting predatory behaviors around these minors, such as stalking them in parks and public spaces, and shadowing them on the streets.

Our initial interventions involved subtly introducing adult supervision to thwart predators. Using art supplies, paper and some string, VISION’s staff created safe spaces in parks, around mosques and other public areas to allow children to gather in pursuit of recreational activities, such as puppet-making or artwork. Our goal here was to discourage predators from approaching or accosting these otherwise unsupervised minors. At the same time, we continued documenting numbers and patterns, conducting fact-finding research to assist broader efforts against child exploitation and trafficking.

VISION’s research and outreach in Abbottabad led to us creating a functional resource centre for the rights of children, providing training, conducting research, and encouraging the organic evolution of locally-emerging behavioral change communication tools (BCCT).

Thanks to these tools and resources, the Abbottabad resource center became the first to train a women-led non-profit in outreach and organizational methods, to enable them to work with girl-children on the streets and in domestic service. This pioneering effort broke conservative stereotypes for Khyber Pukhtoon Khuwa (KPK).

Additionally, our research led to us creating and publishing a series of books for children. One of these books, aimed at helping boys understand bodily changes, received acknowledgment from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). VISION has been informed through a partner organization that UNICEF plans to convert this book’s storyline into puppet theater for street performance, where it would reach many more children who might not be able to access, read or use the book.

The final book in this series is designed to sensitize children to sexual abuse and exploitation on streets, and to help them protect themselves. This book is nearing completion and will be published once it has been vetted and pre-tested.

The two other books in this series, and accompanying puzzle on self-image, were introduced to an all-boys boarding school, and received positive feedback from teachers and staff.

In addition to this, The Resource Centre has conducted a Knowledge Attitude Survey (KAP) in the cities of Murree and Peshawar, funded through a small grant program at International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) based in Washington, DC. This survey is focused on understanding the knowledge attitude practice on inter-provincial trafficking of children, along with people’s general perception of child labor. The survey also conducted a desk research of the lacunae in legislation on child labor, and highlighted the gaps between existing laws and their implementation.

2006 Abbottabad: Launching Hath Main Haith in Abbottabad
2006: VISION celebrating Children’s Day in Abbottabad
2012:  Outreach activity in Lady Garden, Abbottabad
2012:  Outreach activity in Lady Garden, Abbottabad

Working with street children in Murree

In 2009, the European Commission (EU) funded a pilot project in the mountain town of Murree through one of its grant-awarding partners in Pakistan. Murree is a popular resort in summer, densely crowded with tourists seeking cooler temperatures.

Just like in Abbottabad, summer tourism in Murree also brings large numbers of non-local children whose origins aren’t always clear. Many children who are observed coming to Murree during summer are also seen to be sticking around afterwards.

Who was bringing them to Murree, and why did they stay long after the lucrative tourism season was over, when even some local businesses were shuttered from a lack of customers? Additionally, why were these non-local children apparently being shuttled to different parts of the city?

The European Commission tasked VISION to investigate these and other questions relating to these children. 

To do this, VISION began mapping Murree – both its geography and social organization – to understand different economic and social factors that could be influencing the movement of these children in and around the city. VISION also initiated contact with these children to build trust and offer support.

We learned that these children were victims of trafficking, brought to the cities and put to vending and other labor regardless of their age. Not only were these children, many of them very young, left to fend for themselves against predators, but they were also exposed to health hazards without access to healthcare.

We also found that a significant number of these children were being brought to the city specifically for sex work.

Judging the situation to be dire, VISION set up a safe space in one of Murree’s residential neighborhoods for children who wanted an escape, even if just temporarily. VISION partnered with local police to help monitor the city for signs of trafficking. We worked with law enforcement to also attempt to rehome children who had families to return to.

Building on the lessons learned in Lahore and Abbottabad, VISION engaged the local community, including hiring local staff at the safe space and for outreach, making them active stakeholders in the process. Consequently, when we brought in teachers to informally educate the many children at our shelter, many locals in the neighborhood also sent their children to take lessons.

This was, in many ways, the perfect integration of community participation and support from law enforcement to render aid to young victims of trafficking and exploitation. And we were sad to see this project end.

It is difficult to measure or claim successes when so many children remain unprotected and at the mercy of exploitative adults and groups around Pakistan. But we hope that the research we conducted around the country, our field experiences, and the alliances and networks we built with local partners for intervention will help carry this work forward.

2015: VISION’s Tuition centre in Murree
2015: Training Children: Puppet Making  in Murree
2015: VISION’s Tuition centre in Murree
2013: Outreach Activities in Murree
 

November 2015: Report on Internal (Within Country) Child Trafficking from the Four Provinces to Murree, Pakistan in summer months- Some Important Demographics

Fig 1: The figure reflects the ages in which the Children were Trafficked to Murree

Fig 2: The figure describes the source provinces from which the Children were being trafficked to Murree
 

Fig 3: The figure describe the profession/work that the Children were put into; once Trafficked to Murree

VISION, in-collaboration with National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and other Civil Societies NGOs, Trained Islamabad Capital Territory Police on Child Rights

VISION staff and Tahir Khilji training police officers
Tahir Khilji trains police officers