There are fears that as families flee the floods in Pakistan, children are getting separated from their parents. That could increase the already-high number of children who go missing in Pakistan each year. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Haider Yaqub who works with a children’s charity in Islamabad.
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MARCO WERMAN: The fate of many other children in Pakistan is not as bright. About 3,000 of them disappear every year. That’s according to a new study by the children’s charity, Plan International. The kids are sold into child labor or the sex trade or kidnapped for ransom. The Director of Plan International in Islamabad is Haider Yaqub. He says the flooding in Pakistan is putting children in even greater danger. The reason has to do with the way people react when the floodwaters approach their homes.
HAIDER YAQUB: People try to stay with their assets, they don’t try to move out right away. And they send out their female members and the children out of the family. Now, looking at Pakistani culture, we are a male dominated society, therefore when women and children are asked to leave, usually that puts both of these categories at a higher risk.
WERMAN: Right. And when you say the catastrophe puts these people, these children, at higher risk, risk of what?
YAQUB: There is risk of life, there is risk of getting lost, getting abused, trafficked. So, all these risks come at the forefront whenever there is a catastrophe because the people who are guarding them – because in our society the main rule of guardian, or guarding your children, comes to adults and that within the family male figure of the house takes on that responsibility first.
WERMAN: In the past, say, during the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, what did you find the results to be with child abduction during that disaster?
YAQUB: Yeah, that disaster there was lots of issues of child protection which were visible, which came to the forefront. It is unfortunate that when people are under misery there are people who try to benefit from it. So, that was the situation at that point in time [OVERLAPPING]
WERMAN: So you did see a rise in child abduction during that earthquake?
YAQUB: Yeah, during that time and even in tsunami there was cases reported in Asian countries.
WERMAN: Is there a large child labor industry in Pakistan?
YAQUB: There are children who are involved in [INDISCERNIBLE], there are children who are involved in hazardous industries, yes.
WERMAN: There are an estimated 20 million people displaced from these floods. How can you possibly help the children? How do you even keep tabs on them?
YAQUB: It’s not possible for any single organization to do it. It is a time when everyone needs to come together and work. Primarily this responsibility is of [SOUNDS LIKE] government and the families. If children are lost, they should have ways that they can get back to their families, relocated. There is a system where people can talk over the radios or telephone help lines, so there are ways that we can get to those children who need are help.
WERMAN: Mr. Yaqub, we just heard from the BBC’s Jill McGivering, that the Pakistani government is saying that in the face of this crisis they are doing the best they can. Aren’t you worried that with the child protection, the government will also be so overwhelmed by everything that they’ll just say we’re doing the best we can?
YAQUB: Well, we have to be very honest here because there are about 20 million people who have moved away from where they were living. So, there’s a big situation at hand and I don’t think any government or anyone could be prepared for it. Now, the situation is such, but it’s their responsibility and they have to provide food, shelter and protection to its population. And in this case I think they are trying their best, but everyone needs to do a little more. Come out and help a little more so that we can reach out to children like what Plan is doing. It may not be a huge thing, but what we are doing is, we are trying to reach the few people and try to make a difference. And if everyone starts doing that, it would make a difference in everyone else’s life.
WERMAN: Haider Yaqub, the director of Pakistan’s office of Plan International, speaking with us from Islamabad. Thank you so much.
YAQUB: Thank you very much.
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