It’s the third Sunday since I decided to write this. It’s been 3 weeks. Not much has changed. In fact, it seems to have gotten worse in the quietest of ways. People aren’t talking about it anymore perhaps because it’s not trending on social media now. I remember the same thing happened with the Kasur incident. When I first heard the news about Zainab, I didn’t feel anything. I was not surprised. We have gotten accustomed to showing apathy as a defense mechanism but I hope we never stop caring. That’s when you know a nation is truly lost.
On 25th February, 2018 the Metro Central section of Dawn News published a small article titled, “12 Acquitted of Child Abuse Charge”. The article explained that 29 cases were registered by the Kasur police in 2015 “against more than a dozen suspects”. As you might recall, a child pornography gang was busted after the locals came forward with horrifying stories. The Kasur police investigated the abduction and sexual assault of 280 children belonging to the same area. Let the figures sink in for a second. There were 280 children sexually assaulted and forced to abuse each other. They were filmed and blackmailed with those tapes. These tapes were sold for profit while the abuse continued. Apparently, 3 of the accused were given life sentences in one of these cases. What about the rest? Reportedly, the 12 people mentioned in this recent article were charged with sodomizing a teenage boy and filming the act. It reads, “The prosecution failed to establish its case”. There were 16 witnesses, 16! However, “ATC-IV Judge Chaudhry Muhammad Ilyas did not find them convincing”. They were declared innocent of these charges. So, the police was wrong about all 12 of the accused? The prosecution was so dumb that all 16 witnesses were insufficient to prove the crime? I don’t think so. If the judges keep questioning the credibility and competence of the police and prosecution, what is the expected outcome of the other 28 cases related to this incident?
Fast forward a week there was an article on Page 02 of Dawn: “Teenage Girl Left for Dead for Resisting Gang Rape”. The incident took place in Nawabshah. The survivor was only 14 years old. She didn’t want those three men to rape her so they assaulted her so viciously that she “fractured her backbone”. I remember reading another article about this case that said that they threw her off a rooftop which caused multiple fractures in her backbone. The article revealed that her parents claimed that the police refused to register the case against the main suspect. I’ve heard social activists talk about this before. In rape cases, particularly child rape cases, the family is pressured by the police or influential people to withdraw the case. The same thing happened here. It was only when the case reached the media that the police took action. This was followed by a few people from the government taking notice of it and conducting hospital visits. The usual you could say. I don’t know what became of this case but it’s surely not the last of its kind.
We only get the newspaper delivered on Sundays now but I used to read it every day. Daily, without fail, there would be a small article squashed in one corner reporting one or more rape cases in the country. It was almost like an afterthought. I dreaded finding them but I still looked for them every day. I wanted to read them and say a prayer. These victims and survivors are the forgotten ones sometimes whispered about behind closed doors. Every once in a while a case becomes a hash tag. Those are the lucky ones. They are lucky even after being raped and murdered in cold blood. People actually know that they existed and learn of the horror they suffered. The luckiest ones are those who are granted justice by the law. How grateful they must be to the justice system. How brightly Lady Luck shone upon them.
Child abuse is a joke in Pakistan.
I am fully convinced of this now. It’s a joke to you and me who tweet about it when it’s a hot topic. It’s a joke to the judiciary that laughs while granting child rapists freedom to go rape some more innocent children. It’s a joke to law enforcement that is too scared to register cases against the accused and pressures families to “compromise” while their children lie broken in hospital beds or dead 6 feet under. It’s a joke to the media that puts sad music behind the footage of a 6 year old lying raped and dead in rubbish heap. It’s most certainly a joke to the government that turns a blind eye to little children being forced to sell themselves on the street for a few coins to buy drugs. There’s a Korean saying that roughly translates to, “As long as it’s not me.” This is how I feel we think. It’s not my flesh and blood so why care?
You might feel like I’ve been too harsh so let me explain a bit more. We are enablers of child rape. We are shameless spectators. We look the other way when child abuse happens because it’s a “family matter” and relations could go sour if word got out. We protect the reputation of the child rapist because he has mouths to feed or he’s got his whole life ahead of him. We look for excuses to blame little boys and girls because Lolita wanted to be raped, right? We turn a bone chilling case of child abuse into a trend so no one will take it seriously and it’ll die down eventually. We are responsible for child rape. We don’t stand with the victims. We stand with the rapists.
Child marriage is tradition
Like I said, the law thinks child rape is a joke. A Pakistani gets their NIC made at 18 years of age. This is age they are given adult status. The age of sexual consent in most countries is 18 years. Even though Japan’s age of sexual consent is 14 years, anyone 18 years or above involved in sexual acts with a 14 year old is considered a child abuser. In Pakistan, the age of marital consent varies from 16-18 years in different provinces. Basically, our government and society approves of and promotes child rape. A child who doesn’t even have the right to get their NIC made is deemed ready to get married and have children of their own. I know child marriage happens in our elite circles too. It’s not a practice limited to the lower class. I know girls who’ve gotten married at 15-17 years of age. They were just children. The dangers of pregnancy, child birth and domestic violence at that age were totally ignored by their parents. Their marriages were celebrated by hundreds of people. Such is the ignorance of our nation. For people who use Islam as an excuse to justify child marriage please know that you don’t score points for handing over your child to be raped. The process of puberty starts at around 9 years old for most females. Puberty is a journey not a destination. If you don’t hand over inheritance to a female under 18 years of age (as Islam dictates inheritance be handed over at puberty by the guardian) then why do you think they’re fit for marriage?
Child prostitution is rampant
A while back, I watched a documentary titled “The Hidden Shame of Pakistan”. It was mind numbing. It focused on male child prostitution at Peshawar’s traditional rest stops. Child prostitution is very common all over Pakistan. Every area has its own customs and setup. There are few things more convenient than buying a child for sex for a price so low even a truck driver can afford it. Only Rs. 50 for one night as I recall. The documentary explained how the rest stop owners targeted runaways. Most of these children, as young as 8 years old, had fled from abuse at home. Many were orphans. They collected scrap metal and sold it for money to buy food and drugs. Once addicted, they found it hard to turn down any job. When questioned, the rest stop owner refused to admit to it at first. Then he spilled everything for money. His customers were asked if they wanted a boy along with a bed for the night. It’s that easy! What does an 8 year old boy know about sex? The producers interviewed the abusive truck drivers (in exchange for cash of course) and they said that the little boys had bad character. They didn’t think gang raping a child in a bus was their fault. They said he wanted it. One of the boys demonstrated how they got clients besides the rest stop. They dealt on the street in front of everyone. He also revealed how the clients took them to a local cinema where adult films were screened and raped them there in broad daylight. No one batted an eyelash. The local residents know all about it. The police know about it. No one cares or does anything. There was one man who tried caring for these innocent boys. He was a shop owner who attempted to cure their addiction and protect them. The worst part is when a rape victim became a rapist and turns suicidal. It’s like an unbreakable cycle. The producers also interviewed Imran Khan since his was the ruling party in KPK at that time. He said that he knew that child prostitution was a problem in the city but not to this extent. Imagine the ruling party claiming to be unaware of an organized setup of child rape in their area. What he said next stunned me. Imran Khan, a hero for many youngsters, said that they had more pressing concerns at that moment because the police was under attack from terrorists. The police tasked to protect the citizens cared more about their own hides than children being raped in the city every single day. The great leader of a popular political party said that they couldn’t spare resources. He did mention that they would look into it but I haven’t seen or heard of any action against this sickening practice.
I don’t believe in judging parents for how they bring up their kids unless they violate human rights but I am shocked at how careless some are to be honest. Denial is like a cancer that spreads and eliminates the most precious ones in our society. After everything that has happened in recent years, how can parents believe that any place or person is completely safe for their children? Countless children have been snatched right off the streets they live in by human traffickers, rapists and abductors. Still, children play in the streets totally unsupervised by a responsible adult. I see children walking alone to the market every day. How people can bear to leave their kids in the company of drivers and house help is beyond me. I understand nannies and daycare. I am not talking about that. Statistics show that a large number of children are abused by older relatives especially uncles and cousins. The joint family system Pakistanis cherish so much leaves our children particularly vulnerable to abuse yet no one thinks from this angle. I cannot leave out Qari sahabs here. I’ve lost count of the number of children who’ve come forward with stories of being sexually abused by their Qari sahabs. Seminaries have many such cases. Why are parents still willingly exposing their children to all of this?
Sex-ed doesn’t stop rape
I’ve seen many people blame rape statistics on the lack of sex education in the country whether it comes from school or parents. I agree that sex education is absolutely necessary. However, sex education teaches children the biology of sex, what to expect from sex and how to have safe sex. It does not teach kids not to rape others. Teaching children the concept of consent in sex-ed, however, would help. Most students when questioned about the quality of sex-ed described it as laughable. While sex-ed has the potential to help crush rap culture, this is not the way to go about it. Protection guidelines stress on being difficult when faced with a predator. Such criminals want low risk prey. Children are easy victims.
If a child is old enough to speak, they are old enough to understand Good Touch Bad Touch. They can learn basic dos and don’ts. This is the first step to self defense. I recently saw a video about a project at a British school where a baby was brought in to teach little kids empathy. That’s what we need: empathy. While it’s hard to understand the thought patterns of a rapist, one can try to raise a caring individual.
A child does not ask to be born. The parents bring the child into the world. No matter how hard it is for them, they are responsible for their child’s safety. Hoping for the best is not good enough. Staying in denial is enabling child rape.
Lastly, I just wanted to say that we cannot rely on institutions to fix a problem when our own mindset is so rotten. Unless we stop treating child rape as a joke, there will be no change.