PESHAWAR: The story of 10-year-old Ayesha who was kidnapped from the city, sold in Khost, Afghanistan as a child bride for a malik’s son did not seem to tug any strings, official or of the heart. And amidst the absolute silence, another child went missing.
As details were pieced together, several elements stood out – all existing problems of law and order and human rights which keep going unchecked.
Osman, who is seven, was reported kidnapped from Faqirabad. His family learnt he too was being held in Khost, however, unlike Ayesha’s loved ones, they still await Osman’s return. The similarities do not end at the logistics; Ayesha was trafficked and as it turns out, Osman’s was a revenge kidnapping after a human trafficking deal went sour.
Niaz Ali, a labourer, and his wife say Osman was kidnapped on April 9, from street 12 in Afghan Colony. They learnt the abductor was an Afghan refugee and an acquaintance who demanded Rs3.2 million in cash and two girls as ransom for their son.
“He goes by the name Muhammad – he is an Afghan refugee from Khost; yet he has a Pakistani CNIC from Waziristan,” Niaz Ali told The Express Tribune.
“The accused is a friend of my father Sahib Zaman,” Ali added.
Once the family realised Osman was taken, they filed an FIR with the Faqirabad police.
Zaman, who sells pakoras on a pushcart, told The Express Tribune, “After Osman was taken, we went to Sadda in Kurram Agency where Muhammad is well known.”
There a man told the family Muhammad’s relatives were living in Dariwala Banda in Kohat. “We hired a vehicle for Rs8,000 for a return trip and reached Sadda,” said Zaman. In Kohat, Zaman added, they told the police to arrest Muhammad’s two relatives as they might be the one hope to get Osman back.
“They were arrested after a great deal of argument, but when I reached Peshawar, the Faqirabad police said they would only go bring the two suspects to the city for interrogation if transport is arranged for them,” he added. And so Zaman rented a vehicle once again so the police could bring both the accused to Peshawar.
Once the two suspects were shifted to Peshawar for interrogation, their statements helped put together a disconcerting and disjointed picture of what might have happened. But at the time, not much could be proved and the court released them on bail.
The sale of women
“These two accused were nephews of Muhammad and they blamed everything on their uncle,” said an investigation official at Faqirabad police station, requesting anonymity. “They said their uncle, with the help of Sahib Zaman, Osman’s grandfather, purchased girls from IDPs in the name of marriage and then sold them to people in Punjab and Afghanistan.” The official added that Zaman and his family were reluctant to tell the police the truth and so hampering the investigation. “We were unable to determine the real cause behind the kidnapping by a ‘family friend’.”
However, the police did inform Ali about his father’s role so he could help uncover the truth and perhaps find Osman. Albeit reluctantly, Ali told police Muhammad wanted a girl to marry and paid Rs0.4 million to Zaman to get him a wife. There is no verbal agreement documenting this exchange, but matching stories from Muhammad’s nephews attest to the fact that Muhammad paid Zaman to buy a girl for marriage.
Sahib is said to have contacted an IDP identified as Pervaiz who agreed he would give his 12-year-old daughter for marriage, but for a certain amount. The girl was being taken to Khost via Sadda by Muhammad and Zaman when the political administration was tipped off by locals that an underage girl was being transported across the border. Political administration officials arrested the entire party involved in taking the girl to Khost.
“The girl was handed back to the family who disappeared with the money,” said the Faqirabad investigation official. “Muhammad and Sahib Zaman spent six months in jail in Kurram Agency and when they were released they found the girl and her father Pervaiz had left their rented house.”
The police official added, “Muhammad was more than disappointed, he told Zaman to locate them or give him a refund. When Zaman failed to do so, he visited his [and Ali’s] house and quietly took Osman with him,” he added.
The girl route
Talking to The Express Tribune, Faqirabad ASP Furqan Bilal said both the kidnapper and Zaman were part of a gang involved in child trafficking. He said they mainly bought the girls from IDPs and sold them in Punjab to rich men.
“Yes Osman, only a child, is a victim of his grandfather’s wrong doings but since he has been shifted to Afghanistan, the police cannot help [his family],” he said. In Ayesha’s case, the men of her family spent weeks in Afghanistan and eventually the culprits were arrested by the Afghan police and the Pakistani diplomatic mission there helped secure the release of Ayesha from Afghan police.
Osman’s father told The Express Tribune, “We are poor people. I sold chickpeas on my cart while my father sells pakoras on another. Ali added, “I cannot afford millions because I am too poor to even afford my own house.”
Child marriage and poverty
According to Child Rights International Network’s website, both child trafficking and child marriage are two of the most “prevalent forms of slavery” in contemporary times.
Talking to the The Express Tribune, Uzma Mehboob, a human rights activist, said child trafficking in and out of Pakistan was a commonly known fact. “We know women from K-P are literally bought for their fair colour and perceived beauty and then sold to wealthy people in Punjab.” At times, Mehboob added, the girls are forced into prostitution.
“Internal displacement is a big man-made disaster which was done without planning and it has forced the poor ones to even sell their daughters to help keep the family going,” she said. “The government has to prevent [trafficking] but first it has to eradicate poverty which is one of the biggest causes behind such acts.”
Care International UK—due to conclusions similar to Mehboob’s—studied the nexus of child marriage and emergency situations in a report published in 2015. While the population studied was Syrian, it was the part of population seeking refuge in other countries. One of the urgent recommendations made was that refugee-hosting countries must ensure access to “legal employment, fair wages, cash programming and durable livelihood solutions” as the longer a family is living in poverty, the more likely it is to “resort to child marriage to alleviate [poverty]”.
Poverty is after all why Osman’s own father cannot afford to bring back his son who was kidnapped as a result of a cycle of poverty.