By: Shazia Hasan
KARACHI: As they were given the boxes of chicken biryani and mango juice, the little girls seated on revolving chairs around a big conference table turned down their gaze and bringing little hands together recited the prayer they had been taught to say before a meal to thank the Almighty.
At the Darul Banaat child protection unit in Shanti Nagar, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, on Thursday, all seemed far less overwhelmed than they had been a day ago at the SSP Central office in Gulberg where many men claiming to be their guardians or relatives had shown up to take them home.
“Getting them out of that environment did them a lot of good,” said Nuzhat Fatima, director at the social welfare department of Sindh. “The special assistant to chief minister on social welfare, Ziaul Hasan Lanjar, was directed by the chief minister to take good care of the children until it is decided between the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments what to do about them and where to send them,” she added.
Most of the girls hail from the tribal agency of Bajaur.
Their number increased from 26 initially to 36 by late Wednesday evening as police raided different places on information collected from the woman who had been found with the 26 girls at an abandoned two-room house in C-1 Area of Liaquatabad. After questioning the woman, Gul Khanum, the police raided a place in Fatima Jinnah Colony where they recovered seven girls.
“Then three more girls were recovered by the police in Korangi. The woman is still being questioned by the police. Soon after bringing the children here in the early hours of Thursday, we got them measured and cleaned up after which we helped them dress in new clothes, which they love,” said Ms Fatima.
Only one girl, who was not from Bajaur, had been reunited with her family in Karachi early on Thursday, she said. “Now we have 35 girls,” said Ms Fatima, as two little girls holding their new Barbie Dolls, which they had covered with their old pink hijabs, walked past the others sitting around the table.
Meanwhile, Fayyaz Sherpao, a political agent, arrived from Bajaur Agency to take the children back home.
Karachi Commissioner Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui said it was better to send the children back home with the political agent. “They have their own culture and norms. We cannot take chances where children are involved. The sooner this matter is resolved the better,” he said.
Rasheed Khan, who accompanied the political agent and was there taking attendance of the 35 girls and noting down their names on a list, said the girls looked better as they knew they would be going home soon. “We have asked the Sindh government to hand over the girls to us so that we can take them back home. As yet we don’t know of their parents but once we reach Bajaur they can contact us and take the children from us,” he said.
However, assistant director (child welfare) at Darul Banaat Seema Nazli said: “It would be better to first trace their real families.
“The process will obviously take time but the girls are safe with us here. We are all here to take good care of them. So many of us haven’t even slept a wink since last night when the children were brought here. It should be everyone’s aim to get them to their real homes.”
Suddenly, a little girl started coughing profusely. “Get her some water please,” her friend, Kainat, asked the woman made in charge of taking care of them by the welfare office. “She is my friend, Asiya, and she has been vomiting since yesterday. She also has fever,” said Kainat, while speaking to Dawn in Pushto.
“I have another friend, Sana, who also is not well. But she has been like that since I have known her. She is fine one moment and then she starts shaking and vomiting, too,” the little girl described her friend’s condition that sounded like the child was suffering from epileptic seizures.
Confusion over girls’ whereabouts
Earlier, the atmosphere outside the SSP Central office at Gulberg was found very different from Wednesday’s. “No one is permitted inside. The girls are not with us,” said a constable posted outside.
On inquiry about their whereabouts, it was said they were handed over to the Ansar Burney Trust but a call to Ms Shagufta Burney revealed that the children were not with them. “Ansar Burney sahib has been trying to help ever since he found out about the poor children. But they are not with us,” she said.
Another call to Edhi Foundation also couldn’t achieve any positive results. “The children are not with us,” said spokesman Anwar Kazmi. “Maybe you should check with the Darul Aman Panah,” he suggested this reporter.
At Panah, the guard at the gate quickly shook his head. “We have been approached by numerous people since this morning asking about the little madressah girls. They are not with us,” he announced.
As efforts were continued to trace the girl, it later emerged that they had been shifted to Darul Binnat child protection unit and were under Sindh government protection.
It was decided that the girls would be handed to their parents only after the completion of judicial process.