Tuesday 28 February 2017

Chained boys saved from dungeon

Rob Crilly in Islamabad

Police have rescued more than 50 boys, some in shackles, from a warren of rooms beneath a madrasa in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi.

Officers raided the dungeon, which was equipped with hooks and chains, after a tip-off that children as young as seven were being beaten and abused.

Television pictures showed the children being released from the underground maze of rooms next to a mosque. Some were singing and dancing, while others were clearly traumatised.

The children said they were enrolled by their parents to cure them of curses or to be treated for drug addiction.

One said he had been beaten 200 times and another said he had been told he would be forced to join the militant jihad if he tried to escape.

Police officers said some students had even been shocked with electric wires.

Azmat Ulla (17), a student, said his father sent him there because he suffered fits and could be violent.

"My father took me to several spiritual healers who said I was a victim of black magic," he said. "Three months ago I was admitted here.

"My father pays 3,000 rupees (€26) per month to the madrasa as a fee to make me a normal person, but I still suffer from fits. They kept me chained and beat me with sticks ruthlessly."

Religious seminaries, attached to mosques, are the only schools available to many of the poorest children.

About two million boys are educated in Pakistan's 15,000 madrasas.

Regulation is notoriously lax. Many have been linked to extremist groups, such as the Taliban, and funnel impressionable boys to militant camps in the tribal areas.

Pakistan's interior minister yesterday ordered an investigation into the madrasa in the central Sohrab Goth district of Karachi.

They arrested two teachers and took all the students into protective custody, including men in their 20s as well as two seven-year-old boys.

"They were kept there like animals," said Akram Naeem, a police officer.

There is little state care for people with learning difficulties, mental illness or drug problems. Many end up in prison or are locked up by their families -- for their protection or out of shame. Some parents arrived at the police station to ask for the madrasa to be reopened.

"I brought my grown-up son here because he is a drug addict and he was making my life miserable," one told a local television station.

"I don't want to take him back." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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