By: Sagar Maheshwari
‘Leave my son, please!’ Sara yelled as Hamza was pushed against the wall, crying endlessly, but his voice did not leave his throat.
Today was a normal day. Sara woke up early morning and prepared breakfast for her husband, Janbaaz. Little Hamza woke up on time, too, only to find out it was a Saturday. The little family had been following the same routine for three years now. Hamza was soon turning 5 five and the birthday preparations were on the way.
Sara cleared the table and put Tom and Jerry for Hamza when the bell rang. Sara opened the door and greeted Farhan, one of her distant relatives who were in the city for a few days. Farhan showed up unannounced, but Sara’s house was always warm for her family and Janbaaz’s too.
Sara left Farhan and Hamza in the lounge and went to make coffee for her guest. Five minutes later, she heard Hamza’s squeaky voice. She ran to the lounge, fearing Hamza had hit his head on the bed. To her utter disbelief, Hamza was pushed against the wall, and Farhan rubbed himself against the little boy.
Sara froze at the moment, her mind refusing to register what she was seeing. She yelled and cried, pushing Farhan away from him. What happened next is another nightmare.
Hamza’s story is just one. Pakistan witnesses hundreds of child abuse cases and thousand that are never documented.
785 Girls and 704 Boys Sexually Abused in the First Six Months of 2020
At least eight children are sexually abused every day in Pakistan. Eight children every day. Let that sink in!
Sexual abuse in children is more common than we believe and more common than we are willing to accept. It happens in every other home, in most homes in Pakistan. The country witnessed 1489 cases of child abuse in the first six months of 2020. Among these cases were 785 girls and 704 boys. Most of the abusers are acquaintances of the victims or their family members. They live close to us and have access to our homes and children. These are people we trust with our children and allow them to be around us. There are people we call and tell stories about our family. These are people we share our pictures and videos with, without knowing their intentions, until it is too late.
As a citizen of this country and a member of this very society, I am disgusted at the situation. As a man belonging to the same society, I am ashamed. Sometimes I just don’t know what has happened to us. Saying that we have failed as a society is an understatement. We were to protect our women, children, and even men. With several reported child abuse cases every day, and God knows how many undocumented cases, I am afraid. I fear for the safetyof the children around me. And I have asked myself a million times in the last few days that if I wanted to have children and bring them in this world of beasts. It is just an unfortunate and challenging position to be in for all of us, especially for minorities of the country with added problems of forced conversions and more.
In 2018, a seven-year-old girl, Zainab Ansari from Kasur, was raped and killed. A few days later, another Zainab, two and a half-year-old girl, was raped and later killed. These cases got international media coverage, led to protests, but more than that, and it made everyone realize that Pakistan is headed towards dark. The sick minds of men in the country do not spare minor girls and boys, let alone grown men and women.
Sexual assault in the country goes beyond what a normal mind can comprehend. It is not about men forcing themselves on women or men for sexual satisfaction. What satisfaction would one get from being sexual with a minor? As sad as it to know, it also makes us realize that in order to control child sexual abuse in the country, we will not institutional and constitutional changes, along with addressing the problem and its roots.
Punishing the Culprits
With the recent surge of rape cases and child abuse in Pakistan, people have started talking about the issue. It wasn’t long ago when victims of rape and sexual assault remained silent and didn’t speak up against their abusers. I am not saying a few cases that get media coverage are enough to make victims speak up. The physical and emotional trauma is far from comprehension for us.
And since most abusers are acquittances, family members, and other close people, victims find it very difficult to confide in anyone, let alone take legal action. But the media coverage has gotten everyone talking. Parents know that they have to protect their children from everyone.
The threat isn’t only from strangers, but from close family members, house help, and everyone else. People are talking about educating both parents and children about mandatory safety measures.
It still kills me to think that children as young as five years old need to be careful about their safety while all they should be caring about is learning new nursery rhymes and playing with friends in the evening. Unfortunately, we in Pakistan have failed to provide security to our women, men, and children.
After every case that is highlighted on social media and in the news, the public outrage is massive. People protest for several days and demand the abusers to receive the worst punishment possible. Among other demands, the loudest voice asks for the public hanging of rapists, so potential rapists see the result of sexual abuse.
The aim is to associate rape and sexual abuse with terrible punishment, so people are scared to be abusive. Some disagree with this approach, as the belief that severe punishment will discourage sexual abuse is not backed by scientific research not supported by historical figures. It is an assumption and a heartfelt reaction to the crime.
What we need to understand is that only a negligible percentage of child abuse cases are reported and documented. Hundreds, even thousands, of children are sexually abused in their homes, educational institutes, and in other places. Most of the abusers are close family members, including cousins, uncles, and even brothers and sometimes fathers too.
We have heard horrific stories of sexual abuse from fathers and brothers, but children are unable to speak up against them for obvious reasons. Confiding in someone against one’s loved ones is probably one of the most difficult things to do. And asking for capital punishment for one’s own sounds doubtful in a culture like that of Pakistan.
The debate on punishment is related to post-crime that allows us to make the abusers pay for their crimes. It does not help us control the crime and avoid cases of sexual abuse in children. The discussion on punishment does not help in developing solutions to reduce the increasing number of child abuse incidents in Pakistan.
This approach to tackling child abuse is not effective because it does protect the victims from becoming victims. Since the number of reported cases does not adequately represent the extent and frequency of crime, the punishment shall fail to create a considerable impact.
The world is also discovering a new approach to catering to sexual abuse that includes rehabilitation, restitution, and accountability. In order to reduce sexual abuse in Pakistan, we need to do more than just scaring potential rapists and abusers with capital punishment and severe consequences.
Recently, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, signed the bill and approved chemical castration for rapists. I am all up for punishing the abusers, but the crime is already committed. I want to draw attention to developing strategies that help reduce crime, so we never have to talk about the post-crime scenario.
Helping Our Children Fight and Survive
The country is paying attention to making effective laws and regulations related to sexual abuse. To be honest, I am not when worthwhile policies see the light of the day.
It needs a lot of homework and research, especially in a culturally and traditionally tight country like Pakistan. And until we see a constitutional, judicial, and evidence-based change in the country, we must take the necessary measures to protect our children and ourselves from sexual abuse.
The concept of good touch and bad touch should be introduced to children at a very early stage, so they are able to identify the presence of abnormal and unnatural love. It is important that we create a safe space for our children, so they come to us when they have a problem.
Instead of fearing that we won’t believe them, we must make our children believe that despite the situation, their parents and family members will stand by them and protect them.
Never think your child is overly sensitive. Never trust anyone with your children, especially in closed and secluded spaces. Never!