Lahore:The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has conducted a fact-finding mission in response to allegations that the Kashana Home for Destitute Girls in Lahore was being used to ‘supply’ young girls and women – ostensibly for marriage – to several senior government functionaries in Punjab. The allegations were made by the home’s former superintendent, Afshan Latif, in a video that went viral on social media last week. HRCP is concerned over the lack of transparency surrounding this matter and the possibility that residents of social welfare institutions may be vulnerable to exploitation by those in positions of authority.
HRCP visited the premises of the Kashana Home: the institution appears to be well run and its residents well-looked after, although this is based on the team’s observations and on the testimony of a low-income single parent whose daughter has been a resident for eight years and has benefitted from her stay. It was not, however, possible for HRCP to speak to any of the residents individually or in private.
Subsequently, HRCP spoke to Afshan Latif on the telephone because she had refused to meet the team the day before. Ms Latif claims to have CCTV footage of unidentified men entering the premises and residents’ bedrooms as ‘prospective suitors’ – a serious claim that warrants investigation. She alleges that she resisted the demand and submitted an official complaint to the Chief Minister. However, the Chief Minister’s Inspection Team (CMIT) set up in response included a government functionary whom Ms Latif had accused of ‘pressuring’ her to provide access to the premises; he was later removed. Ms Latif says she was subsequently suspended on grounds of ‘misconduct’, while the Social Welfare Department claims that this occurred because she had refused to comply with a financial audit.
HRCP is concerned over the lack of transparency in this case: the CMIT was asked to investigate a case in which a member was implicated and virtually the entire staff at Kashana was replaced within 48 hours of the video having been released. The Department’s response that the staff reshuffle was a ‘routine matter’ is not adequate. Given that Kashana Home has a duty of care to vulnerable girls and young women, there must be no room for bureaucratic wrangling or for secrecy. HRCP urges the Punjab government to investigate all these claims independently and to protect the security and rights of residents of social welfare homes.