I was at the park, and saw these three little children playing on the swings. They had tangled, dirty hair and fraying clothes, but they were happy and jumping around with all the energy of squirrels who’ve gulped down Red Bull.
I did notice one thing out of order though. The eldest of the four siblings, a delicate girl who looked around 10 years old was sitting quietly on one of the swings, watching the 4 and 5 year olds playing and screaming. Her chin had an outbreak of acne and a few cuts that seemed infected, but she didn’t seem aware of them. Any time one of the younger children stumbled or fell, she got up, gently helped them get back on the swing and went back to her own, her calm vigil resuming.
I saw her and I then I really saw her. She seemed to look far more mature than her years and it was clear she had taken on the role of caretaker and guardian rather than playmate, as she should have been. And that saddened me. Pakistan’s growing population increases because more and more people have children without thinking about the consequences. And poverty breeds misery, so naturally they don’t have time or resources to care about their offspring, resulting in an abnormal family structure, with the eldest sibling acting as the surrogate parent.
Worse, if the children born are female, to the poorer classes, they’re only dowry liabilities and of no other use whatsoever. Boys get preferential treatment, while girls get slapped and kicked. Of the four siblings, three were girls, and the youngest was a little boy around 3 years old. He was the only one the eldest sister wasn’t watching. Coincidence? I don’t know, but things need to change.
Or we’ll have more children who have to be parents before they’re even teenagers.
But that girl inspired me, and humbled me to quite an extent. She had infinite patience taking care of her siblings when she could have been jumping around with abandon. She could have been a child, could have had a child’s heart, or a child’s dream. But instead she chose to leave all that, at 10 years old. What a sacrifice.
I think I saw a kindred spirit today.