The appalling statistics on child sexual abuse by Sahil recently establish how we as a society have fallen to moral indecency with rotten social fabrics.
According to the fretful statistics, 298 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in the Kasur district following 292 cases in Rawalpindi and 247 in Islamabad in 2021.
Sadly, these statistics are persistent or increasing despite the existence of several laws and child abuse being a social taboo.
In 2016, Sahil reported 4139 cases of sexual abuse which include the cases of rape, rape, murder, kidnap and rape, group abuse, and molestation.
Around 10 children are abused every day in the country as per Sahil.
Earlier this year, the case of a missing girl surfaced as Sargodha police recovered and traced the locations of 151 missing girls from different locations, some were married, and others recovered from local brothels.
This signals the presence of an organized network of child trafficking and child pornography.
There are thousands of cases which go unreported due to lack of information access, and protection of family honor.
In some cases, close kin, and family elder is the abuser.
Child abuse is one of the shameful and doleful practices which violates their basic right to safety and dignity.
These cases are more frequent in unprotected spaces such as the workplace. Child labor is a compulsion for struggling families, making children easily fall prey to this malaise.
Around 12.5 million children are engaged in child labor despite Pakistan being a signatory to ILO’s Minimum Age Convention and Worst form of Child Labor.
Generally, our cities, villages, and communities are not safe spaces, neither for women nor for children.
According to the safe city index 2021, Karachi is the second least safe city in the world in environment, infrastructure, health, and personal security.
Other cities are not better, as the cases of violence and abuse against minors continue to appear in the media limelight, and a common struggling dwindler’s everyday experiences demonstrate all of those.
Children are physically, mentally, and sexually abused by an elder in agriculture, manufacturing, restaurant, and mechanic shop.
Despite several legislatures for the protection of minors including a recent Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Bill 2019 against child abuse, article 25 of the constitution, child marriage restraints act 1929, and article 11 which prohibits slavery and forced labor of children, and others, violence against children keep fomenting its phase.
The problem lies in the proper implementation, inequality in justice, and limited access for families to seek legal aid.
Severe punishment and deterrence mechanism may reduce violence for time being, but it needs a broader and multiple approaches to understand why such violence continue to surface.
Psychologists have long identified the abnormal psychological traits of offenders being frustrated, mentally ill, and having abused experiences in childhood. But this provides a narrow explanation, ignoring the social and cultural factors.
Violence against children generally reflects the power relation between children and adults. Children have been recognized as minor, vulnerable, and developing beings.
Adults maintain their supremacy and domination by controlling their behavior.
Because they have no or limited roles in various decision-making, children’s voices usually succumbed.
In case of abuse, they generally can not resist or can not share what has happened to them.
Child abuse usually involves three features. Exploit of trust and responsibility, abuse of power, and children’s inability to consent. Children’s trust in a responsible adult is exploited because the abuser is in a position of power and deceives the child.
Consent is tricky as children cannot consent to such activities as they are immature.
And it is more problematic in power relations and abusive situations. The psychologist also identified anger, self-gratification, addiction, and money making. All such cases reflect misuse of power by adults and social construction of child-adult relations, as, like women, children’s bodies are regarded as sexual and objectified, they as well are considered dependent not partners.
It can also protect an adult male’s masculine identity.
The abusers often feel a sense of pride in demonstrating their power. There is also a class dimension as abused children usually belong to impoverished backgrounds, as well as the offenders.
It is often considered the deprivation of monitories and poor classes that translate into violence. Poor children are also exposed to risky public spaces, and they have limited protective mechanisms, and parents are less concerned about their safety.
Law also works in the interest of the powerful as families from poor backgrounds do not lodge FIR and fear the police may exploit the case, or police do not follow up on such cases.
What is needed broader approach to understand child abuse, including the social and psychological makeup of the offenders, the social and cultural environment, and the subjective experiences of children.
There is also a need for an effective judicial mechanism to facilitate the vulnerable and poor children and provide the spaces where children can share their stories with their parents, siblings, and teachers. A widespread campaign through media, engaging the civil society and academia is also critical.
Zulfiqar Ali is perusing MPhil in Sociology from Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad.