Like it or not, our children are going through one of the darkest phases of history. With each passing day, new stories of their plight come forth. From Karachi to Khyber, in every nook and cranny of the country they are encountering horrific challenges of various kinds, while the state and its machinery sleep at the wheel. Actions are only taken against matters which are dragged into the spotlight by the media. The cases left in the dark are forgotten.The miseries of our children begin inside their mothers’ womb, just after conception. Very few woman follow standard pregnancy diet charts during their pregnancies in Pakistan. Maternal malnutrition is one of our society’s acknowledged intractable problems. Not only does this endanger the life of the mother, it also increases the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes — including fetal growth restriction and stunting in childhood. Moreover, cognitive and motor impairments may also occur as a consequence of this. Following birth, the story of their agony continues. According to one study, only 38 percent of infants below the age of six are breast fed in this country. About 9.6 million children are denied proper nutrition, leading to undernourishment which results in defective growth. A staggering 44 percent of our children are stunted and are exposed to morbidity and infections.The situation is made worse by unhealthy and unhygienic living conditions. Owing to unsafe water and pathetic sanitation,many die as a consequence of intestinal diseases. According to UNICEF, Pakistan has one of the highest morbidity rates for newborns. One in every 22 infants fails to survive a full month. The irony is that most of the children die of preventable and curable diseases. Furthermore, people are generally not aware of standard parenting methods. Typically,children are brought up in a manner which is detrimental to positive personality development. They are constantly bullied into doing what their parents want them to do. Many parents resort to physical punishment, without understanding the future psychological consequences of their actions on the child.At the age of five,when children are admitted into schools, their hardships increase further. In most of the country’s schools,corporal punishment is in practice in fullvigour. Students are beaten as if they were animals.Overlooking their natural potentials, students’ abilities are compared to those of their fellows, the weak students being taunted and humiliated by their teachers, parents and others around them. At almost the same age, the most unfortunate of children are put to work as industrial and domestic labour. These children virtually live in fear, and are often treated as subhuman’s by their employers.Meanwhile, it is our children who are used as suicide bombers by terrorists. They are either recruited persuasively, or are abducted and later brainwashed,and then sent on suicide missions.The communication gap between children and parents, as well as the conservative nature of our society are the main hindrances in protecting children. Many of them tend to keep their psychological and sexual afflictions to themselves, and never apprise their guardians of what they have been throughThen there is the plight of this country’s girls — who are routinely forced to marry much older men. In parts of the country, daughters are traded to end enmities, settle debts and resolve other disputes. Vani, Ghag, and Swara are among some evil customs still enforced in many regions.Many children are also susceptible to sexual exploitation. Horrible cases of child sexual abuse surfaced in different parts of the country recently, examples being the dreadful cases of Zainab and Asma. With respect to mass child sexual abuse, Kasur, a city on the outskirts of Lahore, is quite famous now for all the wrong reasons. Though these acts of moral turpitude are not limited to Kasur alone.The communication gap between children and parents, as well as the conservative nature of our society are the main hindrances in protecting children. Many of them tend to keep their psychological and sexual afflictions to themselves, and never apprise their guardians of what they have been through. Even if their parents come to know about such tragic abuse, most would prefer to keep the whole matter in the dark, rather than take a stand for their child and bring the perpetrators to justice.The well-being of children is not the responsibility of parents alone, the state must also work for their welfare. There is a need to focus on the law and order situation,and establish an effective judicial system. More awareness is needed on what kind of parenting helps children thrive. Furthermore, children should be taught and trained how to protect themselves against abuse and exploitation.The writer can be reached atSirajShawa@gmail.com and Tweets at @SrjShawaPublished in Daily Times, March 28th 2018.