Lahore (AsiaNews) - Despite having signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Pakistan has never adopted laws or policies to protect and shield children from exploitation, abuse and sexual violence, this according to activist groups and human rights organisations who have called on the authorities and civil society groups to work more closely together to protect minors.
One thing stands out in a recent survey, which gives an idea of the severity of the problem. Four million children are forced to work - often hard work - from an early age. A million of them have to live rough on the streets where they are easy prey to violence.
Pakistan, a nation of more than 170 million inhabitants, is characterised by widespread poverty, limited education opportunities and far-reaching backwardness in many segments of the population and in large parts of the country.
A high level of poverty, lack of parental supervision, a high rate birth rate and inadequate policies are among the leading causes of sexual offenses,
The data confirm the seriousness of the problem. In 2013, more than 3,000 cases of child sexual abuse were recorded. In more than 1,400 cases, the perpetrator was an acquaintance, followed by strangers (1,067 cases), family members (85), neighbours (74) or immediate blood relatives (70).
However, the numbers could be much higher since many cases go unreported - in the workplace or at home - because of shame and fear.
The problem of the widespread poverty of some families, which leads to hardship and neglect, is compounded by the presence of criminal gangs that exploit children, including in the sex trade, for financial gain.
The group most at risk are street kids, with 90 per cent of the 1.5 million experiencing some form of abuse. What is more, the trend is getting worse.
In terms of gender, females suffer sexual violence and abuse the most (71 per cent), especially women and girls working as maids and baby-sitters, aged 11 to 15.
In addition to laws and rules that protect children and punish the guilty, human rights organisations want the government to adopt programmes to help young victims and treat, above all, their "psychological wounds", which last well into adulthood.