Alison Blake

Alison Blake

British Deputy High Commissioner to Pakistan

Part of UK in Pakistan

28th July 2014 Islamabad, Pakistan

A childhood for every child

One of the themes running through my work during my time in Pakistan has been supporting the courageous women and men working for women’s empowerment and equality and an end to violence against women in Pakistan. Violent conflict is perhaps the greatest “anti-development” driver a country can face. Pakistan has not only suffered 40-50,000 deaths from terrorism in the past decade, its economy has been stunted and its social and political development distorted. Research by the British Council in their Next Generation report attests to the horrendous impact on young people, women and men, of growing up in a society where violence and conflict are widespread. Some of the violence is in the home – 80% of Pakistani women are believed to have experienced some form of domestic abuse or violence.


For the past few weeks, as part of our preparations for Girl Summit 2014 in London, I had been focussing particularly on the issue of child and early marriage, widely prevalent in Pakistan and which contributes to the stark gender inequality in a country where women make up half the population but only a quarter of the workforce, where 7 million girls do not go to school and two thirds of women are illiterate.   It is not a coincidence that some 70 per cent of Pakistani girls are married before their 16th birthday. Where the mother is under 20, there is a greater risk of complications, death of the mother or child during the birth, and of the child dying before their first birthday. Early marriage robs a girl of her childhood and disrupts or cuts short her education. Poor education limits her economic opportunities. A girl who is married as a child is more likely to be poor and stay poor. She can be cut off from social contact outside the family and her isolation and low status within the household makes her more vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence and abuse. This is why one of the aims of the Girl Summit 2014 – to end child, early and forced marriages within a generation, everywhere and forever – is so important for Pakistan. But change can only come when every girl, boy, woman, man, uncle, brother and father in Pakistan is ready to make a difference.

Women and children in the North of Pakistan have had to face an additional and substantial challenge in the past few weeks: more than 500-650,000 people (the majority of them women and children) have been displaced by the military campaign in North Waziristan. We have been working hard to help the government, UN WFP and other humanitarian organisations provide shelter, food, water and sanitation and healthcare for them. DFID already has a major humanitarian programme in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (some £12million), which is already host to over 1.5 million refugees from Afghanistan and many hundreds of thousands of people displaced from elsewhere in the FATA. But faced with the pressing need, the UK has been able to provide a further £5million for food and basic life support to help sustain this further flood of internally displaced people. The scale of the need is immense and the media coverage is one of all too familiar scenes of long lines of people (overwhelmingly men and boys) queuing at the food distribution points, and of the devastation in places where the fiercest fighting took place. Vital work is being done on the ground, but with an emergency on this scale inevitably there are problems. There is a risk of malnutrition among children, especially the newborn, and unless productive short-term work can be provided for adults, families will remain dependent on state or charitable handouts and child labour might flourish. And with schools scheduled to reopen on 1 September, it will be crucial that there are means to provide education for the displaced children, boys and girls.

Sophia Mahmud,Hina,Alison Blake Hashmat,Ayesha M Hamid and Tehmina Durrani
In the photograph left to right – Sophia Mahmud, Hina, Alison Blake, Hashmat, Ayesha M Hamid and Tehmina Durrani. Photo Credits: Shabbeer Hussain, Chief Photo Journalist-Daily Times

Diplomatic life overseas frequently creates opportunities to throw into sharp relief the contrast between life in Islamabad and the lives of the poor and those suffering. But it also gives us the opportunity to encounter and support activists who have devoted their lives to working for change in Pakistan. I was moved to hear Tehmina Durrani speak during an award ceremony at which the Ambassador of France conferred on her the honour of “Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters” in recognition of her work as a novelist, artist and social activist. One of her themes is one that she has highlighted in her work, the terrible impact of war and violence on children, and she spoke passionately about the need to remove the guns from the childhoods of these IDP children and replace them with toys.

Maryam,Tosheeba Sarwar,Abida Parveen,Tehmina Durrani,Komal Chaudhary,Alison Blake and Sophia Mahmud
In the photograph left to right – Maryam, Tosheeba Sarwar, Abida Parveen, Tehmina Durrani, Komal Chaudhary, Alison Blake and Sophia Mahmud. Photo Credits: Shabbeer Hussain, Chief Photo Journalist-Daily Times

As we get closer to Eid, and the shops are filled with happy crowds buying the special food, bright clothes, shoes, bangles and Eid presents for the children, I wish a Happy Eid to everyone and will continue to work with those who are trying to bring stability, safety, opportunities and happiness to all the children of Pakistan.

2 comments on “A childhood for every child

  1. The work for family life can only effectively take its roots, if the parties in marriage are dealt with mutual respect. I have came across many incidents where after marraige male spouse has return to UK, and life of young girl is driven to an abyss. I have now seen number of these incidents, and some thing needed to be done about them.

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About Alison Blake

Currently on a posting to Islamabad as the British Deputy High Commissioner to Pakistan.

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