Rape is Never the Victim’s Fault!
Children are vulnerable to sexual abuse all over the world. In Pakistan, the dynamics that make them vulnerable are twofold: impunity for perpetrators, which is reflective of the overall weak and easy-to-be-manipulated criminal justice system compounded by low priority given to crimes of this nature by authorities and the taboos around issues related to sexuality as well as the tendency to confuse child protection information with sex education as a result of which children are vulnerable to sexual violence and predators.
News of heinous crimes of rape and brutal murder of minors immediately catch people’s attention. Sexual abuse of children is widespread in Pakistan and generally it is a tabooed topic, so there is hardly any discussion on it in the mainstream media. It is also because most victims of this despicable act opt not to talk about the agonizing experience and they prefer to suffer in silence. Probably, these survivors do not have words to describe the trauma they are going through.
In Pakistan, rape victims are silenced by cultural taboos, and the perpetrators go scot free. As Louise O’Neill says in her book Asking For It, “They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.”
Zainab, a six-year-old innocent girl, was raped and murdered in Kasur – a city near the Indian border that was once famous for its Sufi shrines, but has now gained the unwelcome epithet of ‘Pakistan’s rape capital’. Kasur was hit by revelations of child pornography in August 2015 when the news emerged that a paedophile ring based in a nearby village had filmed about 280 children being sexually exploited. After one of the victims went public with a video, investigators found that parents who learned of the crimes had stayed silent only to avoid bringing shame on their families in a conservative Pakistan, where sex and rape are taboo subjects. Authorities
were castigated for their sheer neglect in that case, and many residents of Kasur said that it was only after that police took notice of complaints of child abuse. Before 2015, police used to refuse to register rape cases and often blamed the families, discouraging them from filing even the FIRs. That case brought the menace of sexual exploitation of children to light but, unfortunately, did little to curb the crime. And, this deafening silence in the part of law-enforcement agencies resulted in the brutal murder of the seven-year-old Zainab.
After the brutal killing of their beloved daughter, Zainab’s parents chose not to remain silent, they continued to press for justice; breaking a taboo on openly discussing sexual assault in Pakistan that has allowed victims to go ignored and perpetrators unpunished. Nearly two months before Zainab’s killing, an innocent girl named Kainat was attacked and dumped in the trash in Kasur. She was the only one of the 12 child victims to survive, but according to members of her family, she is still disoriented and is unable to recognize them. Her father had drained the family’s finances to pay medical bills so as to get her daughter back to normal life. However, after Zainab’s case became public, little Kainat was offered free treatment at a local hospital. In case of Zainab, after Pakistan’s army chief took notice of the tragic incident, a joint investigation team was formed, involving provincial police officials and Pakistan’s major intelligence agencies. The investigators tested DNA samples from 600 neighbourhood residents and interrogated dozens of people, and successfully nabbed the real culprit named M. Imran Ali, a 24-year-old resident of Kasur.
According to the latest figures released by “SAHIL,” an organization that works on child protection with a special focus on sexual abuse, a total of 1,764 cases of child abuse were reported from across the country in the first six months of 2017 alone. In the previous year, the total number of reported child abuse cases stood at a staggering 4,139, bringing the total number of children being abused in Pakistan per day to 11. The shocking numbers bring to attention the failure of Pakistan’s law-enforcement agencies, particularly in Punjab, in apprehending these criminals and curbing a plague that seems to have permeated the society.
Child abuse takes place in almost all parts of Pakistan. Kasur has been in the spotlight because such cases have been reported there in the past as well. Kasur is a hotbed of such crimes because child labour is so rampant in the city. Moreover, those involved in abusing children feel they can get away with their crimes. On the other hand, the government wakes up to such cases only when those are highlighted by the media. It has not done anything substantial to introduce legislation and mechanism to prevent child abuse. Pakistani rights activists say they had presented a number of suggestions to the government after the 2015 child abuse scandal in Kasur, but authorities paid no heed. Sadly, there is no long-term redressal of the issue and it is treated more as an anomaly rather than a widespread problem that needs to be tackled at various levels and through sustained efforts.
Looking at the past events of such type, it is likely that the furor will die down and little will change; largely because of the entrenched political interests, clan loyalties, legal limits and cultural taboos that work against justice in such cases. Due to pressures of the influential of the area, police are discouraged from investigating, witnesses are often stopped from testifying, and courts let the abusers free for ‘want of evidence’.
To thwart the occurrence of such gave crimes, a lot needs to change. An effective response has to be multi-pronged which must include interventions such as more effective and specific legislation around sexual abuse of minors. The implementation of laws is equally important. First of all, there is almost no sex education in public schools and institutions. Through better education and counselling of the youth and proper preaching of Islam and its deep-rooted true practices in the society, a vital change can be effected. Grooming of the children and the youth at home is the most important element in this context. Parents should keep a vigilant eye on their children and guide them on different matters related to self-respect and respect for others as a positive member of society. On governmental level, it involves resource allocation, sensitization and training of law-enforcement agencies, health and legal officials, as well as child protection information for parents, schools and children themselves. The government must take care of this sensitive point while making and compiling this awareness campaign and protection-related information. If this deliverance process of information to the children goes wrong and if they would not carry and understand the matter properly, there will be a horrible suicidal effect on the society.