June 2011


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Child Slavery in Pakistan: 20,000 Children with Small Heads Are Run by the Shrines for Beggary
Malik Ayub Sumbal

No one knows about the reality and sad saga of these greenish veiled individuals with shaved heads carried by their masters with a chain about their necks to get the sympathies of the masses for the sake of begging.

The worst form of slavery in the name of religious tradition has become a common practice in Pakistan as no law nor authority is ready to save these enforced mentally retarded slaves from their cruel masters and the beggar’s mafia.

In Pakistan, where such examples of the worst inhuman attitudes and behaviors are a routine matter, no one dares to shed their tears on these issues. Slavery has been banned throughout the world, but still, in Pakistan, human beings are forced to be slaves for the shameful acts of the inhuman and brutal mafia in the country.

There is now a worst form of slavery: having an inane and so-called spiritual myth to tell the people to acquire more commiseration and money in the name of these innocent people who have been paralyzed by this mafia in a brutal manner.

There are very strange individuals in Pakistan associated with a shrine of Pir Shah Daula in Gujrat, a saint of the Suhrawardi school of thought. During the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, Shah Daula in Gujrat is said to have the power to punish disobedient parents in the shape of children with small heads (micro encephalic children). These children are the property of the shrines in different parts of the country and are called the “Rats of Shah Daula.”

Scores of worshippers and followers of Pir Daula Shah, especially barren women who beg for children, come to the saint invoking his blessings for the fulfillment of their wishes. The first born, usually with a very small head, is called the “Mouse of Shah Daula” and is offered to work as a servant at the shrine. Subsequent births produce normal children.

According to a centuries-old tradition and followers’ beliefs, barren women who worship at the shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Daula will become fertile. However, unless they donate their first-born child to the shrine as an oblate, all their subsequent children will be born disabled.

Claims are made that the tradition has been used as the foundation for a trade in the donated children, who are deliberately disfigured and sold to professional beggars by the shrine’s guardians, although the shrine is now controlled by the government of Pakistan.

It has been claimed that the defacements are caused by a genetic abnormality, but studies show that the children are unrelated to each other. There may be as many as 20,000 of these children, mostly in Punjab Province and the city of Gujrat.

One such example of gross human rights violations perpetrated in the name of religion on ignorant people who are so superstitious is that, upon fulfillment of their wishes, they leave their children on the premises of a tomb. The heads of these innocent children are then donned with steel helmets to restrict their growth, and they are subsequently used for begging in various parts of the country.

These children are trained for the sake of begging and then are rented out in the hands of the beggar’s mafia in the country. This phenomenon has been taking place for several decades, but there is no law in the country to control this practice.

A police officer in the city of Rawalpindi, Azhar Hameed Khokhar, when asked about the issue of these enforced baggers, said, “We are taking action against these elements according to the Beggars Act, and no one will be above the law.”

The government of Pakistan and the authorities are helpless though in front of the influential child traffickers in the country.

According to senior experts and some human rights activists in the country, there is a strong need for stern action by the government against this inhumanity that is being committed by these people who are disgracing humanity.

In addition to these unlucky children that have been forcefully enslaved and used in mischievous activities by the gangsters and mafias, there are scores of children every year smuggled into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Pakistan to work as camel jockeys.

Pakistan was considered to be a hub of child trafficking a few years ago; but after the strong efforts by human rights organizations, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media, the government tried to repatriate these trafficked children from the UAE.

According to sources and after collecting facts and figures between 2002 and 2010, almost 1,000 children have been trafficked to the UAE from the southern Punjab and northern Sindh areas with the majority of the children coming from Rahim Yar Khan, a backward district of Punjab.

The government of Pakistan, after the issue was highlighted by NGOs and the media, managed to repatriate all these children; and in June 2010, the last trafficked child came back home.

There are several NGOs working against child trafficking in Pakistan, but they are unable to attain successful results as there are differences among the statistics complied by the impendent sources and the NGOs.

* Malik Ayub Sumbal is a freelance investigative journalist based in Islamabad working for the foreign media and can be contacted by e-mail at <ayubsumbal@gmail.com>.
* The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a regional non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. More information is available on AHRC’s web site at <http://www.ahrchk.net/index.php>.