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26 madressah girls kept at house to settle loan dispute recovered

By: Shazia Hasan

KARACHI: Twenty-six girls aged between five and 11 years in pink shalwar kameez and pink and burgundy hijabs, some crying and rubbing their eyes, some confused and wide-eyed trying to decipher, with lips trembling, the questions being put to them, some coug­hing or throwing up, were

all rounded up at the SSP-Central office at Gulberg after being recovered from a house in Liaquatabad’s C-1 Area on Wednesday.

“They have been through severe trauma. They are understandably upset,” Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker Irum Azeem Farooque told Dawn as she tried to divert the children’s attention from the people watching them to the cartoon film being played on TV.

“They don’t speak much Urdu and I’ve been trying to calm them down and tell them that everything will be fine, in my broken Pushto,” she said.

The girls were said to have been staying in a small two-room house for the past two days with a woman, who identified herself as Gul Khanum. She was also brought to the police station along with them. They had no food and the neighbours after taking pity on them started sending them whatever little food they could spare for them, which was still not enough to feed 26 little mouths. The story as the police understand is that the girls are originally from Bajaur and had been sent to a madressah in Karachi by their parents some four months ago.

The owner of the house they were found at allegedly owed the madressah around Rs350,000. When he could not pay the money, the girls were moved to his house by the madressah management in order to also take custody of the house until he paid up. That’s when complaints from the neighbourhood brought MQM lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui at the house where he met the girls and distributed toys and chocolates among them. The police were also called in who took the children into protective custody where they were fed and given necessary medical attention, too.

“The police at first thought of handing over the children to a welfare organisation but we have requested them not to do that and look into finding their parents themselves. We will also be taking a keen interest in getting them back safely to their homes but first it is important to find out why and how they got here,” said another MQM lawmaker Shazia Javed.

As many unanswered questions lingered over why and how the girls were in Karachi far from their home in Bajaur and whether they were kidnapped or sold, the Liaquatabad police also recovered six more girls from Jamshed Quarters in Fatima Jinnah Colony.

Guardians, prospective relatives

Meanwhile, hearing about the children many people claiming to be looking for the lost girls thronged the SSP office.

“She is Parveen. See, she recognises me,” said Shoaib Khan, who claimed to be an older cousin of the eldest, 11-year-old, girl in the group. “Yes, her parents are in Bajaur. But we are her relatives here in Karachi and would visit her at the madressah every week. Seeing what has happened on TV earlier, I immediately rushed here but the police are not handing over the child to me,” he fumed. “What do they intend to achieve by keeping the children here?”

Another man, identifying himself as Abdul Majeed and standing in the queue to identify his niece, said that his brother never sent the child to any madressah. “I don’t even know if I would find her here. My niece had been kidnapped in 2010 from outside our home where she had been playing. She was only two years old at the time and would be six today. I have here with me her picture shortly before she vanished and a copy of the police FIR that we filed back then,” he said showing the picture to the media.

In one corner, a senior citizen stared at a photo of two very cute little girls in his smart phone. “Beta, these here are my granddaughters, nine-year-old Zainab and five-year-old Amna. They were vacationing with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson somewhere in Gilgit-Baltistan over four months ago when they had an accident in their rented jeep on Aug 11. “My son, daughter-in-law and grandson died in that accident and their bodies, too, were recovered after several days of search but the two little girls were never found. Search for them was called off due to snowfall in that area, but I’m still looking for them. We live in Faisalabad. I flew to Karachi after learning about the recovery of these madressah girls from Bajaur this morning in the hope that I may find my granddaughters among them,” he said brushing away the tears rolling down his face.

Though the people claiming to be guardians or relatives were allowed to go one by one in the room the girls were kept in order to identify them, the police were not handing them over to them immediately. The police said the children would remain in their custody until the completion of proper investigation.