Sexual abuse: Can we protect Amna?
Child sexual abuse is probably the least acknowledged forms of abuse in Pakistan. It is like Pandora’s Box, that no one is ready to open. Children, and even adults are not educated enough about certain incidents and their prevention.
Middle East Media Research Institute reports that 2,012 cases of child sexual abuse were recorded from all over Pakistan during 2009. This means approximately 3.3 children were sexually abused per day. Of the victims 68% were girls and 32% were boys. It is suspected that the number is much higher. Girls are more likely to be targeted by family members, acquaintances and neighbors, whereas the majority of boys were molested by teachers and total strangers.
NGOs working on child sexual abuse in Pakistan believe that all children are vulnerable to abuse, regardless of sex, class, socio-economic position or educational level.
Belonging to well educated and socially aware families, we think we are safe from such crimes.
For Amna*, the situation was very different. She was the victim of a man, respected in society, over 70 years of age; a relative, a man with whom everyone would come to request prayers. He was polite and had a white beard. She says the abuse started when she was in 5th grade. He called her to his room, on the pretext of giving her Eidi; with more than 25 people in the house for an Eid party, he indulged in inappropriate touching.
Amna says this inappropriate conduct happened several more times, as elders are supposed to be respected and honored, she was sent to his room to pay respect, say salaam and request for prayers. Eventually she stopped going to him, even if she was asked. She thought her mother suspected something but, never asked and Amna despite being very close to her mother never revealed the ordeal she was going through.
Later on, Amna discovered that there were at least two other victims. She suspects there were more, as some of the children around were very reluctant to have anything to do with him.
These incidents occur around us, more often than we think. A friend recently revealed that she fired her gardener because she saw him putting his hand inside the shirt of her 6-year- old daughter, who was playing in the lawn with a friend. Ironically, her daughter, being very close to her mother had not once mentioned this incident to her mother. It was only when the mother confronted her did she confess that this wasn’t the first time it had happened, that it had happened before too.
There are various social and cultural norms prevalent in the Pakistani society that lead to these incidents and ensure that children do not readily report any incidents that may have occurred.
Children are taught to be obedient to adults and any act of disobedience generally has severe consequences. This leads them to believe that reporting an incident like this amounts to disobedience of an adult, specifically if they have been warned against reporting. Furthermore, children are taught that adults are faultless which leads to the child feeling guilty about the abuse in spite of them being the victim. This feeling of guilt also keeps a child from reporting the molester.
Sahil, an NGO working for children’s rights, states in their 2010 report;
A total of 2,425 abusers have sexually assaulted 1,216 children. 81 % of abusers were people known to the victim or their family, whereas the rest of 19 % were strangers.
It is taboo in our society to talk about sex or anything pertaining to it. It leads to a general lack of preventative information among children. Parents, as a rule, talk very little of sex with their children and the children are rarely, if at all, aware of what constitutes molestation.
A study conducted in a total of 2,425 abusers have sexually assaulted 1,216 children. 81 % of abusers were people known to the victim or their family, whereas the rest of 19 % were strangers.
26% had experienced disturbing sexual experiences with a friend or relative;
57% knew of people who had been sexually abused as children. (Fayyazuddin, Jillani, Jillani; 1998)
The reason this issue is so complicated to cope with and even more difficult to eliminate is because it is cloaked in silence, often pushed into the deep, dark corners of our homes and minds, left unattended and untreated.
Amna, to date hasn’t opened up to anyone about what happened. For a long time, she felt ashamed, guilty and blamed herself for a crime that wasn’t committed by her to begin with. A crime she fell victim to, a man she fell prey to. Just recently, has she begun to let go of those feelings and accept that she was a victim and it was not her fault.
For the protection of our children we need awareness, education and strict laws. But foremost, we need to open up communication; talk, discuss and warn the children. Explain to them, at schools, that they have certain rights, not all adults are infallible, and reporting an incident that makes them uncomfortable, will not make them disobedient or disrespectful. They must understand what is appropriate and what falls under the inappropriate behavior category that they should be careful of and a vigilant attitude must be promoted amongst boys and girls of all ages.
It is time we opened up this Pandora’s Box and addressed the issues that have been given undue asylum for too long now.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.