Ijaz, a bus conductor in his early twenties, spends his days travelling through the bustling streets of Peshawar in northern Pakistan, working hard to scrape a living. Instead of going home come nightfall, he, and many others, spend their time with street children, paying them as little as 75p for sex and when they have no money, brutally abusing them.
UK Daily Mail But the children falling prey to these men aren’t the ones you might expect. With girls kept at home by their parents, the majority of victims are boys – some as young as six years old. ‘Once, there was a boy on the bus and everyone had sex with him,’ confesses Ijaz who admits to raping 12 different children during his career as a bus conductor. ‘I did it too but what else could I do? They invited me. And he was that kind of boy anyway.’
Sexual abuse in Pakistan is rife. An estimated four million children in the country are forced into work from an early age due to poverty and of those, more than a million live on the streets where they are easy prey for men like Ijaz. A recent survey of 1,800 men found that a third believe that not only is raping little boys not a crime, it’s not even a bad thing to do.
As a result, an estimated 90 per cent of street children have been victims of sexual abuse at some point in their lives. One such boy is Naeem, 13, who has been on the streets, off and on, since running away from his violent brother who repeatedly beat him following their parents’ death. He was eight at the time. ‘I was lying here sleeping and four people grabbed me and threw me into a car,’ he sobs. ‘One was a bus driver, the others were heroin addicts. All four of them raped me.’
Many of Pakistan’s abusers are bus drivers. One man who knows this all too well is Hassan Deen, an entrepreneur who rents beds – and sometimes boys – to drivers at Peshawar’s largest bus depot. ‘A bus driver rents a bed from me and he says he’ll pay an extra 50 (50p) or 100 rupees (£1) if I can get him a boy,’ explains Mr Deen. ‘There’s often a kid wandering the streets alone. We tell these boys we’ll provide food and shelter if they come with us. That’s how we lure them in.’
And Naeen isn’t alone. Another street child, nine-year-old Akeeb has also been approached by men on the street but has so far managed to escape. ‘I don’t get scared if I have a friend with me,’ he says. ‘I get bothered a lot by the bus driver, the van driver. They tell me to climb on the roof of the bus and do bad things with them. Sometimes they offer me a soft drink in return.’
Unsurprisingly, the impact of this abuse on the children is severe. Along with psychological problems, a Save the Children report showed that as many as one in 10 are murdered by the men who abuse them.
Others go on to become abusers themselves, among them 13-year-old Naeem. ‘There was a boy, about 10 or 11,’ he confesses, shame-faced. ‘I took him to the cinema and spent money on him and he was OK with it. But when we left the cinema, he said he didn’t want to do it anymore so then I grabbed his hand and forced him.’
Although there are laws in place to protect children, police rarely bother themselves with the plight of the street children, with many saying that the ever-present threat of Taliban bombs trumps saving small boys.