‘Was it like this when you were young?’ My son often asks me whenever he comes across a new hurdle that shortens his carefree days as a free spirited child of nine. He is not alone in asking this question; I believe all the kids ask the same innocent question all across Pakistan and all the parents feel as helpless as me when they try to answer this simple, yet a very heavy question.

I just came back from dropping him to his cricket academy and while I am typing this article, my heart is continuously thinking of all the terrible things that can happen to him out there; especially after the heinous incident in Kasur where children of such tender ages were subjected to demonic pornographic crimes for years. This crime which came to surface in the first week of August 2015 reported can even make Genghis Khan feel ashamed once. Such an organized porn crime against children and that too under the protection of who is who in higher places; really it was unheard of. Where is justice now?

Daily, I add two or more ‘do's and don’ts' of things to protect him from all the known and the unknown dangers out there, and I see his young exasperated face thinking his mom has definitely gone crazy, confirmed!  I am sure his cricket trainer thinks I am the most paranoid parent alive but am I to be blamed?

I tried putting myself in the shoes of the Kasur kids’ parents and other parents of kids who face sexual harassment; they have to deal with multiple struggles at the same time, especially in a society like Pakistan where everything is a taboo. Not only in  getting legal justice but taking care of their kids’ psychological health and physical health at the same time. It will take years to feel normal again after what Kasur kids went through. They are just like my kid; too young to enough understand the harsh realities of life and what they went through doesn’t even happen in wars when an enemy force takes over a country and unleashes hell on the citizens. God forbid, if my child is succumbed to such a fate and falls prey to such wolves and their brutal games of death, I would die. I know I will. I love my child so much that the mere idea of him going through such demonic trials is enough to make me sleepless for nights. I really pray for all the brave parents who have to rebuild their lives and their children’s lives again.

Crimes against children, whether in the name of terrorism or due to the rotten frustrated state of the society and its morals, have increased terribly and the news that come to us is just the tip of the iceberg. The days of simple  'don’t talk to strangers’  instructions are over , and now can I blame my child for being anti-social and not greeting others as much as he should? When he goes out on the streets, I strictly tell him to stick to his own friends and don’t try to be friendly with anyone else. I have given him the strict set of rules to follow. My heart simply pains when I remember my care free days of playing in the streets in my neighborhood and reading Enid Blyton books and trying to copy what the characters did in the Famous five series. We had a trouble free, care free childhood and we had a standard safety guide to follow that was not marked as vulnerable to all the imaginable crimes and threats, unlike present times.

After the start of war against terrorism, the security issues regarding schools have increased a lot. The Peshawar APS attack  in December 2014 was the worst of its kind that made all hearts bleed, but even before that I remember my young son, then four or five daily asking me, 'Is the school open today?’ Parents and students and even teachers and administration used to pray for schools to open after they used to be closed for endless days due to different  threats and there used to be no news of them opening at a specific date. Now school trips are out of question in most of the schools, and the careful screening that takes place daily at the school gate is enough to shock anyone who sees Pakistani students going to their respective schools for the first time. The security at the airports can learn a thing or two from the schools security department and the guards standing on the roof of the school building. Imagine going to educational institutions like this and the negative psychological effect on their young minds of the students.

In this era of such negativity, fear and perverts roaming freely, what can we do to keep all the kids safe; not just our own but all the kids of this beloved homeland safe. Instead of just celebrating the Independence Day or Defense Day or International Children Day, let’s work together to give our children freedom from all the shackles that they are tied in. Let us truly guarantee their freedom by pushing the government to pass legislation to ensure child rights and severe punishments for those who are found abusing children in any way. Let us start by giving exemplary punishments to all the persons involved in child abuse crimes whether they are directly or indirectly involved. No one should be spared because of his position. Otherwise, many more Kasur incidents will continue to take place and our kids will be at risk all the time. Let us all work together to bring peace in our country. Let’s pledge to free our kids from this question, “Was it like this when you were young?”

Sabeen Masaud 
Beaconhouse School System
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