Monday 12 May, 8.30pm ABC1
Pakistan is a strategically important Muslim nation. It’s a democracy and a nuclear power, that’s allied to the West in the war against terror. But Pakistan is also a country in denial, turning a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of tens of thousands of poor and vulnerable children.
“It’s one of the most sad and shameful aspects of our society. I have to say I’m totally embarrassed by this. ” – Imran Khan, politcian and former international cricketer
This week Four Corners tells the story of children at risk, forced through poverty to live on the streets of the country’s major cities. Directed by Emmy Award-winner Mohammed Naqvi and written by Jamie Doran, Streets of Shame focuses on the north-western city of Peshawar, where it is estimated 9 in every 10 street children have been sexually abused.
Brightly coloured buses fill the roads of Pakistan. These buses are a crucial element in the country’s economy. But behind the colour lies another much darker story. Much of the sexual abuse of young boys takes place at bus and truck terminals. In one survey alone, 95% of truck drivers admitted that having sex with boys was their favourite entertainment during rest breaks.
Peshawar is not alone in its shame. Zia Awan, a human rights lawyer, says child abuse is a national problem. “It’s going on everywhere. In the big cities, or small cities, towns. Everywhere this is happening.”
A 2010 UNICEF report suggests that traditional Pakistani cultural values of purity and the protection of women have contributed to men preying on boys. This theory is backed up by some psychologists, who suggest that the attraction to young boys stems from the segregation of the sexes, where women are perceived as the inferior gender, rarely seen in public and with very few rights.
“A woman is a thing you keep at home,” says Ejaz, a bus conductor. “You can't take women out because people stare at them – they're useless things; you have to show propriety and chasteness with them. You can take boys around anywhere with you and it isn't a big deal.”
We follow 13-year-old Naeem, whose parents died when he was eight. His brother began beating him and he ran away from home. He has now been addicted to heroin for five years and frequently sells his body to fund his habit.
The question is, can anyone in authority do something to stop this exploitation? Respected politician Imran Khan says he’s shocked by the footage shown: “I must say I know it happened, but I didn't realise it happened to the extent you are saying.” Khan says he is committed to creating a taskforce to stop the abuse, but admits it is not easy.
One of the biggest problems is that police on the ground are more often caught up with Taliban attacks and the safety of children isn't a priority.
STREETS OF SHAME, narrated by Juliet Stephenson and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 12th May at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 13th May at 11.00am and again at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm and at ABC iview (iview.abc.net.au).