Pakistan’s Hidden Shame: Exposing child sexual abuse and Pakistan’s ‘see no evil’ attitude

Published: September 6, 2014
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Rape isn't as much about sexual gratification as it is about exerting power over another; any politically or socially disadvantaged member of the society over whom power can easily be exerted, is extremely vulnerable. PHOTO: FILE

Pakistan’s Hidden Shamea documentary exploring the widespread sexual abuse of children in the streets of Peshawar, is something one wishes every Pakistani would take time to watch, while imploring his or her own eyes to un-see it.

The practice of ‘bachabazi’ (child prostitution), as it’s known around the country, is something most of us are aware of. It is an ignominious fact of life in Pakistan that has blended seamlessly among all the other facts we don’t like to talk about.

The statistics are hair-raising. Of the estimated one and a half million street children in Pakistan, 90% have suffered sexual abuse. And for every 10 children who are molested, one of them is killed by the attacker to cover up the crime.

The epidemic, as recorded by the documentary, appears to be the accidental by-product of the following failing cultural and political policies:

Rigid gender segregation

“You can’t take women out, because people stare at them. They’re useless things. You have to keep them in the house. You have to show propriety and chasteness with them. You can take boys around anywhere with you, and it isn’t a big deal!”

These are the words of a serial child molester, who admits on camera to have raped about 12 boys; his countenance lacking even a hint of remorse.

Ijaz, a bus conductor, personifies the sexual frustration in a social setup where rigorous attempts at avoiding sin paradoxically translate into bare rampancy of sexual crimes. A 2012 UNICEF report on the subject implicates traditional Pakistani cultural values of ‘purity’ as a cause for the rise in sexual crimes.

A conversation with Ijaz offers a window into the psyche of ‘bachabazi’. Raping a street child, ostensibly, doesn’t count as sex; it is not paedophilia, or even homosexuality. It is just ‘boys being boys’, which albeit embarrassing, is not technically criminal in their perspective.

According to Ijaz, the heart wants what it wants and attains it, one way or another.

Denial

“They’ve kept this thing hidden. It’s going on everywhere, and when we say something, they say the civil society is exaggerating. We’re not exaggerating!”

Human Rights lawyer, Zia Awan, laments the lack of discussion on the ubiquity of child sexual abuse and its causative circumstances.

Why is that wherever sex seeps into discussion, it does so for the purpose of titillation or amusement, but almost never for education?

Why should we impart information regarding the medical and social aspects of a sexual act, or talk about the value of consent? The lecture terminates at ‘sex is evil’, so why dwell into the devilish details? It’s like the myth of the dreaded ‘Bloody Mary’, who appears before you in the mirror if you say her name out loud too often.

Child beatings

“He never listened to me, so I’d get angry and hit him. That’s why he used to run away.”

Naeem, a young boy who solicits sex in the streets, first ran away from his home to escape regular beatings by his older brother.

It’d be terribly elitist of me to pin this quandary on poor truck drivers and vegetable vendors. Even among the social class that prides itself for being educated, beating children remains an acceptable form of punishment.

Never mind the psychological fact that it makes children more aggressive. It reinforces an understanding that the child has no authority over his body; he or she must uncomplainingly submit it to an adult whenever required, however unpleasant the experience. Unless absolutely essential to break the rule (say, when administering a vaccine), the child’s body is his temple.

The rape culture

“He was that kind of boy anyway.”

As a society, we have become deplorably efficient at justifying sexual violence. It was either the dress, or the gait, or the demeanour, or the smile, or something about the victim that made it difficult for the attacker to comprehend the glaring absence of consent in the situation.

In the documentary, a man upon discovering that his little brother has been raped responds with rage towards his brother! He implies that the crime was ‘deserved’, and threatens to kill the child for dishonouring his family.

Rape isn’t as much about sexual gratification as it is about exerting power over another; any politically or socially disadvantaged member of the society over whom power can easily be exerted, is extremely vulnerable.

As a nation, we can no longer afford to ‘see no evil’. Thus, a viewing of Pakistan’s Hidden Shame is a harrowing experience, but a crucial one to have.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • MK

    It was on tv here in the UK. Shocking and very hard to watch. Interestingly, the maker of the documentary (Jamie Doran) , in his interview with Christine Amanpour of CNN, did say “Its incredibly important that Pakistan looks inside itself, IMRAN KHAN the politician says its his countrys greatest shame, there are so many others, social workers, human rights lawyers who are trying to do their very best, but are coming up against a brick wall..”

    Amanpour: Do you think IK will take this up, do you think theres any chance of accountability for the perpetrators?

    Doran: Im not a big fan of politicians, met far too many of them, but there was something about Imran Khan that stuck me when i interviewed him, something of the honesty and integrity, i think he is going to do something, from what im hearing it is beginning already.

    Salute to Imran Khan for taking this up, a great man who doesnt fear standing up for whats right!Recommend

  • MrRollsRoyce

    Faraz, thank you for highlighting a very sad reality of our country. Alas the false logic that surrounds the concept of purdah and segregation can only lead to the environment we witness where women are considered mere sex objects who dare not step outside their house, and where the country ranks among the top (or may THE top) consumers of pornography and frustrated males and the prevalence of rape you mention.

    Counting to the days when our nation grows up out the the iron-age tribal cult mentality; not happening anytime soon I fear.Recommend

  • mua

    Thanks for discussing this. Do you know when the documentary would be available?Recommend

  • mk

    Was shown here in the UK couple of days back on C4. The producer of the show Jamie Doran had an interview with Christine Amanpour of CNN, and mentioned that he has offered the doc for free to any Pak network willing to take it, NONE have .Recommend

  • vinsin

    Isnt it pakistan a Islamic State then how come child sexual abuse be ever be a crime?Recommend

  • Parvez

    Excellent…….something we in Pakistan need to talk about……and then do something about it.Recommend

  • Kashif Shazad

    A very well concluded article. However there are still other gruesome facts which were not discussed. Blame it on lack of insight, which you highlighted, is because we sweep things under the carpet. It not about homosexuality; the reasons can range from spectrum like Fixation, Social disputes, the alpha male based society, the sheer lack of exposure to women and so on.
    I can’t help but to wonder sometimes that may be it is the result of mashing up two cultures together. The dominant Islamic values and cultural suppression of women works together to control social evil like prostitution, but then another Islamic value which makes it mandatory to get married as soon as you reach puberty has been ignored due to the economical-cultural dominance. People get married very late in life, and the absence of excess to women leaves no option but “Bacha Bazi”.
    The so called effects will remain as part of this mishmash culture. However educating your children or arranging projects to educate street children and provide protection to them in form self defense, social interaction limitations, heed to their complaints about particular person, hear their stories and DO NOT just ignore it because of it being a social taboo, look into details for the safety of your own children, and the children of this Nation.Recommend

  • Kashif Shazad

    Social Taboos are not meant for Fanatics which represents 90% plus population. It is not Media’s fault, they can’t flare up masses. Discussing it on social media seems the only viable option, hoping someone with access to such children might read them and might offer social assistance to such people.Recommend

  • oBSERVER

    My sympathies with the writer.He really wants that this all should be televized . Poor chap seems to have had a bad childhood.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Does that make any sense ?……but then possibly it was satire that you were attempting.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Sex is a taboo in the society; unlikely anyone will talk about it. Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Pedophillia is a mental illness. These people who do it need to be treated. And now so do their victims.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    It’s not feasible (in fact, not legal) for people to get married as soon as puberty hits, which occurs as young as 12. I find your proposition incredibly disturbing.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that the comment isn’t as ‘personal’ as it appears.

    If your recommendation is that it should be swept under the rug, not discussed, and hence not solved, that’s not acceptable.Recommend

  • ruqayah

    There is no pressure in Islam to ‘marry as soon as you hit puberty’. That is a cultural pressure, it isn’t shameful to marry late, that is personal opinion. One man said in the documentary that he couldn’t find a wife so he resorted to rape. This is literally saying, I need gratification and I will get it one way or another. Also, yes the suppression of women is a huge cultural issue in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries, but it is no way an Islamic thing.Recommend

  • Parvez

    we have one of the highest birth rates in the world :-)
    Subjects such as this are usually seriously debated in a closed forum and recommendations made so that laws can be written…….slow process but a necessary one.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Naila I did reply but ET chose not to allow it…….and it was a legitimate sensible reply.
    I am explaining myself because I hate to come across as rude ( ET kindly print this )Recommend

  • Azim
  • Ram

    This is not a Pakistan specific problem but a global issue but different countries have handled them better and Pakistan need to prioritize the issue and should work hard to protect innocent and most vulnerable precious kidsRecommend

  • L.

    Nah man, I know you are not rude :) Recommend

  • Wasif

    Like homosexuality, pedophilia is not a mental illness. The difference is due to the lack of consent ability in the minor. These people are not to be mentally treated but to be put on trial for their brutal criminal offense on the minors.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    As far as my current understanding goes, biologically and evolutionary wise both homosexuality and pedophillia are not normal behaviours. Currently there is no international consensus on why they occur. It is still under active research. Though homosexuality on its own does not necessarily cause harm unlike pedophillia. And homosexuality is not listed as an illness anymore by most international organizations dedicated to fields on such behaviours but pedophillia is.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Well no, in Islamic states child marriage is not a crime but a celebrated affair. Marriage ages are very low varying from birth to 9 yrs. I have seen many Maulvis debating in favoring Child – Adult Marriages around the world.Recommend

  • Stephanie Howren

    I have a question. thank you all for your time in reading this question I am interested in the relationship between the father of the family and the Sun is it common for the young boys to be broken in or raped by the elders in the family? Understand that the women in the daughters her or abuse that isn’t it normal also to have the voice of uses well I’m broken and part of like I have coming of age ceremony? And because I’m not seeingmuch information about the suns and the family.Recommend

  • Fizah

    I watched the documentary about Pakistan’s sexual child abuse culture and it was really saddening but I would like to know what happened to Naeem, the main boy in the documentary? Did he get help? And what has been done after this film to address the problem? Recommend