Monday, October 24, 2005

Pakistani quake kids sold to sex trade

Dean Nelson:

SIX-YEAR-OLD Aisha loves the orange blouse and jeans given to her by the kind woman who rescued her from the chaos of the Kashmir earthquake. She snuggles up to the woman, trying to forget the devastation of her village home and the deaths of her parents 16 days ago.

What Aisha does not know is that the woman, Kausar, is a prostitute who has bought her from relatives for 50,000 rupees ($1500) and plans to put her to work in the sex trade as soon as she reaches puberty.

Aisha is not alone. According to welfare agencies, many of the hundreds of girls and boys orphaned by the October 8 earthquake are being targeted by gangs intent on turning them into prostitutes or street beggars.

Other children are being sold for adoption by their parents in acts prompted by the destruction of homes and livelihoods.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's Government is so alarmed by the threat to vulnerable children that it has placed armed guards at all hospitals and ordered that no child is released to anyone until proof of kinship has been verified.

A ban on adoption was announced after hospitals and shelters were besieged by people offering to take Kashmiri orphans. Staff at a hospital in Islamabad say a number of people posing as relatives were caught trying to abduct children.

But Manan Rana, a child protection officer working for United Nations children's fund UNICEF in quake-hit Muzaffarabad, says government in Kashmir has collapsed and officials are unable to provide protection.

No official appears to have noticed when Aisha disappeared. After her home in a village called Arja was wrecked, she was taken to her grandmother's house in the nearby city of Bagh. Kausar, her new "carer", who claims the little girl is a distant relative, heard about her plight from family members.

"Her grandmother was too old to look after the girl. I went to Bagh on October 12 and I got her very cheap. A pimp from Lahore might have paid 100,000 rupees," she said.

"I will provide a good education for her. I would not like her to be a cheap, third-class prostitute. I do care about the girl. I will take good care of her, and then reap the benefit. I'm providing for her protection and I don't care what Allah thinks."

She will auction the girl's virginity when she reaches puberty and expects to get up to $4700 for that alone. "She could start work as soon as she has her first period," Kausar said.

If Aisha refuses to work as a prostitute, she will be sold to a pimp. Kausar would not consider any intervention by journalists.

US Envoy: Half of All Trafficked Persons May Be Children

ETHIOPIA: Campaign launched against child trafficking


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