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  • Child abuse grows to worrying figures
At the turn of this year, the suspected murderer of an eight-year-old girl in Nowshera confessed to his crime before an anti-terrorism court. It was also close to the anniversary of Zainab, barely seven years old when raped and murdered last year in Kasur. Surely, much hasn’t changed since her death.
The body of a minor girl was found at a graveyard in Nowshera on December 28 last year. She went missing after she left her house for religious education. Her medical examination confirmed that she was sexually assaulted before being murdered. After the interrogation of 20 suspects with more than 200 DNA samples taken, the prime suspect; a friend of the victim’s father, was arrested from his residence.
The similarities in both cases are many. It was roughly the same time of the year. Both girls had left their homes for a lesson in religious education. Both girls somehow knew their respective murderers, whom they innocently trusted when lured to go astray from the path seeking truth. In both the cases, DNA sample was the identifying evidence. In both cases, parents of the girls sadly trusted the streets outside their homes and perhaps, could not imagine what dangers may lurk out there.
So what has changed since Zainab? There was a lot of emotional outburst and a flurry of activities. The role of security agencies was seriously questioned. The need for advanced methods for investigation was stressed upon, and for some time, authenticity of DNA as evidence was challenged, which to the relief of many was accepted later. There were much hotter debates over the nature of punishments for such crime, with Zainab’s parents and the nation pressing for public executions. But sanity prevailed and this has been ruled out.
On the whole, the nation opened up on sex education. The Punjab government decided to introduce child protection curriculum in every educational institute of the province, including supplementary material based on injunctions of the Holy Quran. It launched a 24-point booklet Pakeza Zindagi regarding safety of children to be distributed among teachers and parents.
Don’t the men who abuse innocent children, including boys, have any shame?
Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology commented that ‘no doubt including sexual education in curriculum will be a positive step while considering the gravity of the situation’.
United Nations bodies issued a revised technical guidance on sexuality education ‘with an aim to enable concerned authorities to design comprehensive curricula that will have a positive impact on young people’s health and wellbeing.
And yet, child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan have increased from nine cases per day in 2017 to 12 cases per day in the first six months of 2018, states a report by Sahil, which is an NGO working on protection of children against violence.
What could be the reason behind these startling statistics? Haven’t we learnt any lessons from the case of Zainab, which was not the first, and very widely talked and lamented? Haven’t we suffered enough, the daughters and the sisters? Don’t the men who abuse innocent children, including boys, have any shame?
The truth is, probably not. No matter how much we tighten the noose around the culprits, and teach our children about the bad touch and the alright touch, these incidents will keep happening, unless we break the vicious cycle.
In 2017 – months before Zainab was murdered, a cleric was caught red handed with his victim in a madrassah or Islamic seminary in a village in Punjab. But the police were unable to pursue the case since pressure from militant groups forced the parent to drop charges and ‘forgive’ the attacker. The case was only one of at-least three such cases that emerged in southern Punjab in the span of one month, which included gang rape of a 12-year-old boy by former students of a madrassah and  the rape of a ten-year-old who was sodomised by the madrassah’s  principal.
The madrassah system reaches at least two million children and is ‘infested’ with sexual abuse according to a senior official, who serving at a ministry in the last government, was tasked with registering cases of such abuse.
The number of madrassahs in Pakistan are estimated to vary between 12,000 and 40,000. They conduct mostly Islamic subjects, with no formal education. The schools, with many of them crossing the fine line and breeding terrorists in the name of jihadists, have since long, remained the hub of child abuse. Zainab’s murderer is an example, where he being a product of madrassah education, had admitted to being abused in his childhood.
The crux of the matter remains, that majority of the Pakistani population, bound within tradition and lured by an increasing influx of media, is frustrated. Letting out one’s frustration on the most unlikely of outlets is not limited to the uneducated masses, although they are more likely to be now caught and punished. There are many untold stories in affluent classes of the society, where child abuse and molestation continues within family households, and society pressures as well as status symbols do not let matters get noticed in public.
Compulsory religious education does not inhibit moral degeneration, since it is mostly comprised of rote learning of selective passages from the holy book. The students as well as the tutors, continue a trail of in comprehended learning and vices, haughtily blamed on the western society, are very much rampant under the thinly cloaked layers of the Pakistani society.
This vicious cycle, the growing frustration and spread of evil will take time to lessen – only if tackled with regularity. Education can play a crucial role, if morals and good deeds are not learnt only by heart, but also encouraged to be manifested. It may take decades or even more, to go deep in the entrenched patriarchal societal setup, where women are weak, vulnerable and dependent. Where they become a source of letting out exasperation – be it in the form of verbal abuse or physical.
When each member of a family is given his or her due respect, only then will that member treat others as the same in society. Whether a child or an adult, crossing limits and boundaries of decency and propriety, is disrespectful. For an entire population to practice respect for others, self control and self fulfilment will take time. But only, if we start today.