Pakistani barber a messiah for missing kids

Anwar Khokhar used to serve as a barber to then Pak PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Islamabad: This is no ordinary man but a messiah for the missing children in Pakistan. Anwar Khokhar, who served as a barber to then Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, has reunited over 8,500 children with their parents since he took up this cause two decades ago.

A barber by profession and with very small means, Khokhar began his work in 1988 and set up the Khidmat-i-Masoom Welfare Trust in 2001.

One of the main tasks of this centre is to find missing children and reunite them with their parents. Its mission also includes helping the elderly, abandoned and homeless children, Dawn newspaper reported.

The trust in Larkana, the fourth largest city in Pakistan`s Sindh province, is run with a meagre financial support from local philanthropists.

Yet, Khokhar was able to reunite 529 missing children with their families this year alone. The rescued children included 338 boys and 191 girls.

Khokhar was awarded the country`s fourth highest civilian award Tamgha-i-Imtiaz by the government in 2003 in recognition of his services.

He told Dawn in an interview how his work has transformed the lives of so many distressed families.

The police and the public would inform him whenever they come across a missing child, says Khokhar.

"My job is to trace the parents of the missing children and take care of them till they meet their families," he said.

The centre raises just Rs 11,000 a month from contributions from Philanthropists, while its monthly expenses soared more than Rs 50,000. He is, however, determined to carry on.

Khokhar wants to set up more such centres in other parts of the Larkana district, but lamented that he received no aid from the government.

Blaming the parents for their children`s disappearance, Khokhar said they should be more careful about them.

Parents carelessly ask their children to go alone and buy goodies from markets, and as a result, they sometimes get lost, he said. Beatings and torture also make them run away from their homes.

He said the growing unemployment, mental stress, poor economic condition and inflation, among others, have shifted parents` focus away from their children`s psychological needs.

He said the main driving force behind his dedication despite all odds is his "conscience" and Allah`s blessings.

"Every now and then, I receive threatening calls and messages when I give shelter to an oppressed woman at my centre but my faith gives me strength to carry on," he said.

A number of gangs are operating in the district who abduct children and hide them in their hideouts in Golodaro, Kharaee Shaikh, Dhori Wara Shaikh for sale, he said.

He came to know about these gangs when one of the boys disclosed his ordeal to him after he was rescued from the Karaee Shaikh area.

Khokhar has reunited over 8,500 missing children with their parents since he launched his mission in 1988.

He is proud to have served as a barber to then Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

"Bhutto used to send his servant Chacha Taj Mohammed Abro to me during odd times," he said.

"Once I was sent for at 4 am at Al-Murtaza House and Noor Mohammad Khokhar, another servant of Bhutto family, used to pay me Rs 100 to Rs 200 per visit," he said.

He still treasures a cheque for Rs 2,000 bearing Bhutto`s signature dated 31/1/1975 to be drawn on the National Bank of Pakistan`s Murree Brewery branch in Rawalpindi.

"He (Bhutto) gave this to me as an honorarium," he said.