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New Film Lays Bare 'Pakistan's Hidden Shame'

Naeem, 13, says he first sold himself to a man in a Peshawar park when he was 8 years old. He subsequently relied on prostitution to feed his heroin habit.
Naeem, 13, says he first sold himself to a man in a Peshawar park when he was 8 years old. He subsequently relied on prostitution to feed his heroin habit.

The United Kingdom's sizable Pakistani community has been under fire recently as a result of shocking revelations of widespread child sex exploitation in the city of Rotherham by men with links to that South Asian country.

Now, a new documentary screened by Britain's Channel 4 last week has been shifting attention to the problem of child abuse in Pakistan itself, particularly the northwestern city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border.

"Pakistan's Hidden Shame" charts the plight of Peshawar's street children, most of whom are believed to have experienced sexual abuse at some stage in their lives.

One of the film's central characters is a 13-year-old boy called Naeem, who says he first had sex with a man when he was 8 years old in order to buy some food after running away from an abusive older brother at home.

Living on the street, he subsequently succumbed to heroin addiction and regularly prostituted himself to feed his habit.

Naeem's situation is tragically common in a country racked by deprivation and all its concomitant dangers.

According to some estimates, there are 1.5 million street children living in Pakistan, whose poverty makes them particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. A staggering 90 percent of them are thought to have been molested at some stage.

Many of the perpetrators of these crimes are bus and truck drivers whose long hours and low wages often give them the opportunity and incentive to pay these children a pittance for sex in stations and terminals around the city.

Most of the victims of this trade are young boys, a fact that director Mohammed Naqvi suggests has a lot to do with the "fierce patriarchal mindset that is pervasive in Peshawar, one in which women are viewed as receptacles of family honor to be safeguarded at home."

It's a view echoed in the film by Ejaz, a bus conductor who admits to having sex with around a dozen boys.

"A woman is a thing you keep at home," he says. "You can't take women out because people stare at them -- they're useless things; you have to show propriety and chasteness with them. You can take boys around anywhere with you and it isn't a big deal."

The topic is a familiar one to the film's producer, Jamie Doran, whose award-winning "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan" laid bare a shocking sexual exploitation ring run by Afghan warlords.

"In Pakistan, you're having the abuse of young boys, largely because young girls aren't available..." he told CNN. "If you really delve into the reasons behind this, you will find in such societies the role of women is so meager their power is almost nonexistent and every survey in recent times has linked the lack of female power to pedophilia."

Somewhat surprisingly, Ejaz appears to view his behavior as quite normal in such a sexually repressed society, despite being aware that his actions are wrong.

"What can we do?" he says at one point. "We know it's totally against Islam. God doesn't like it. But we're helpless against our desire."

Sadly, it appears that homeless kids are also helpless against Ejaz's desire, because little is being done for the underage sex workers of Peshawar, where the local police force is more preoccupied with a Taliban insurgency than the safety of street children.

In fact, hot on the heels of the Rotherham sex scandal, Naqvi's film has been making bigger waves in Britain and other Western countries than it has in Pakistan, where there seems to be little appetite for a public debate on such a taboo subject.

Even though leading Pakistani politician Imran Khan has said the movie's revelations are "sad and shameful," no local TV network has broadcast the documentary yet, despite the fact that the screening rights were offered to them by the filmmakers free of charge.

WATCH: Trailer for 'Pakistan's Hidden Shame'

-- Coilin O'Connor