Child molestation and rape is not just a crime.It’s the sickness which has been residing, untreated and unaddressed, in the roots of our society for a very long time. Today the whole country is in shock and trauma after the heart-wrenching news of child rape and murder from the town of Kasur made headlines. Police found the corpse of Zainab, a seven-year-old girl who had gone missing on the 4th of January,dumped in garbage. As per the media, she was on her way to the tuition centre and went missing, allegedly abducted. The autopsy of her body suggests that she was brutally raped multiple times and then the strangled to death by her abductor.
This is not the first incident of such savagery nor it will be the last. The child rape and molestation has become a widespread and sickening feature of our society. SAHIL is a well-known organisation, which collects data on the sexual assault and rape of children in Pakistan. The statistics which were revealed in SAHIL’s report titled Cruel Numbers for the year 2016 are alarming and embarrassing. Every day at least eleven kids in Pakistan face sexual abuse and as many as 100 were murdered after being raped in the year 2016. In the given year, 1,729 boys and 2,410 girls were molested or raped. These are only the reported incidents, out of which 76% were from rural areas and 24% from the urban centres. The most frightening aspect of the data collected by the organisation is that the percentage of sexual crimes against children is steadily climbing for the last decade and there seems to be no awareness taking place in the society.
Last year in November,CBS News published ashameful report about the issue of child sexual abuse in Pakistan. The findings of the report suggest that child rape is “rampant” in Islamic schools (madrassas). The investigation was sparked by an incident that took place in the town of KehrorPakka, where a 9-year-old boy returned home, with his pants soaked in blood after a religious cleric raped him viciously. Child abuse and molestation is a longstanding and overlooked issue in the Islamic schools of Pakistan. Due to the powerful hierarchy of clergy, elements of militancy, conservative communal pressures and social taboos prevalent in the society, this issue is not even discussed, let alone acknowledged.
The total number of child rape incident sat Islamic schools reported to the police are 359. However, the executive director of SAHIL MunizaeBano argues that it is“barely the tip of iceberg”. An anonymous investigator revealed that thousands of such incidents take place in madrassas and small towns of Pakistan, but they are rarely reported because of the life-threatening dangers involved for the victims and their families. In the year 2016, SAHIL approached 56 families whose children were sexually molested by religious clerics, with the offer of legal aid to prosecute the offenders. However, all the victim families declined the offer of legal assistance. Numerous children live in fear and cannot apprise their parents or guardians out of shame. Thus, several children in our society are perpetually molested throughout their childhood and likely to become sexual predator themselves as an adult.
The 2014 documentary film, Pakistan’s Hidden Shame aired on British Television exposed the horrifying reality of child abuse and endemic of paedophiliain our society. The film claims that nine out of 10 children in the city of Peshawar have suffered molestation of some sort. It also includes interviews of the truck drivers who are habitual and compulsive paedophiles. One of the truck driversrevealed, without any regret or shame, that he had raped 11 kids. Drugs, poverty, illiteracy, negligence in parenthood, absence of child protection agencies are the causes behind this shame.
The murder and rape of Zainab is a result of the collective negligence of our society that has been failing to address and acknowledge the problem of child abuse and rampant paedophilia. The riots that broke out in the town of Kasur after the corpse of the girl was discovered indicate the crippled sense of social responsibility and civic sense. Social media is flooded with disgusting political point scoring and hundreds of digital vultures are now feasting on Zainab’s raped corpse to feed their social and partisan biases.
Our crippled sense of justice requires mob damaging public property, setting police stations on fire, condemning the law enforcement agencies and the government. However, the meaningful debate to address the underlying social and psychological causes are completely missing from our national narrative. First and foremost, it is the responsibility of parents/guardians to protect their children from paedophiles and sexual predators. Parenthood requires the understanding of the facts and risks present around the child and surroundings of the household. Parents can minimize the risk to their children by eliminating various factors and actively monitoring their children’sactivities in schools and playgrounds.
The trauma of sexual abuse inflicts irreversible psychological damage on a child and he or she shows intense signs of behavioural change. Communication is the key here; parents need to talk with their children, ensure their little boys and girls that it is their job to protect them. Talk to the adolescents about sexual abuse and teach them that it is a crime for an adult to touch them in an inappropriate manner and make a sexual advance. When they reach a certain age tell them what sex is and what constitutes sexual abuse. Never get upset, lose temper or show emotional negativity, when a child reveals that he or she is becoming a victim sexual abuse.
Our school systems and parenting completely lack the awareness and importance of SEX-Ed in child grooming and growth. Similarly, paedophilia, which is considered a disease and psychological disorder in every civilized society, has no recognition in our country. Several incidents of child abuse have been taking place and reported in the mainstream media, but there is no national network of child protection or paedophile watch, which exists in Pakistan at state or government level. The strangled corpse of Zainab is a collective shame for our society. This incident demands our government, parliament, law enforcement agencies, NGOs and parents to address and acknowledge this issue and break the social taboos and pseudo-religious clichés to actively protect children from becoming a prey of paedophilic viciousness.