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Special Coverage

Pakistani Children: Collateral Damage?

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Photo by Tayyeb Afridi for KUT News
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Nine year old Shafi-ud-din lived alone in the Pakistani city where he worked to support his mother.

In one of the most volatile regions in the world, a 131 mile journey lasting more than four hours and a lone child not yet 9 – this is Shafi’s story.

You may wonder how a mother could let her child a brave the treacherous journey alone. But for Shafi-ud-din’s mother, there was no other choice.

A tribal woman without resources, she had lost her husband to kidney disease and after 6 months of surviving off the charity of others, she knew she had to make alternate arrangements. Shafi might be young, but he is the only male in the family and according to local norms, he is the one who has to take responsibility for his mother and baby sister.

So, this little dweller of Nekka Ziarat, a village located at Sadda subdivision of Kurram Agency far away from Peshawar, was sent out to find a living in a strange city.

No one bothered to check on this lone child travelling to Peshawar. And he arrived, with just 50 rupees in his pocket. He knew no one.

A lone child in a new city can fall very easily into the wrong hands. This war has brought many miseries to Pakistani children in general, and to tribal children in particular. They are already growing up deprived, many uneducated, poorly served.  For orphans whose parents fall to terrorism or other tragedies, there is no plan in place to save them from falling through the cracks.

Shafi, roaming alone around the roads of Peshawar, could have fallen into very dangerous situations. But luck led him to Subhat Khan, a social worker hailing from Khyber agency.

Subhat Khan arranged for a job and lodgings at a local restaurant. And it was there that I met him.

This little breadwinner, not yet 9, toiling day and night for his family was worried that his mother didn’t know of his ‘good luck’, for he does not have a contact number to call back home.

It was midnight when Shafi finished his shift. As I left the restaurant I looked back. Shafi was looking at me as if to say, “Please tell my mother that I have survived and will be returning with money for food.”

A few days later I called the restaurant. Shafi was no longer working there. The owner told me that the boy was taken by his mother's brother, but he did not want to go. Hopefully, his uncle will care for him. But, if history is proof, that is unlikely.

Tayyeb Afridi is a Pakistani journalist from the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan. He visitedKUT on a US Pakistan Journalism Exchange through the International Center for Journalists. He now chronicles life in Pakistan for KUT News.

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