Child-abuse? Oh please, that doesn’t exist in Pakistan!

Published: March 5, 2016
Email

“I was too young to know at the time; all I knew was that it was uncomfortable and painful.”

I froze when I heard my friend say these words. Surely not in our families? Surely not in the lives of my own friends?

This was the first instance of a friend opening up about her experience of being sexually abused as a child. She blamed everyone, from her uncle who did it, to her parents who she felt did nothing to protect her, to herself for not knowing better. But how could she have known? She was only 10-years-old at the time.

You might be tempted to dismiss this as a one-off story. It is simply more comfortable that way. I mean, an uncle is supposed to be friendly and kind-hearted. It would be too harsh to start being careful of letting your child alone with your own brother or relative, wouldn’t it? Uncles are nice. They pat your daughter’s leg at times, caress her lovingly, tell your child nice stories as they play with her.

Pat. Caress. Play. Stroke. Love. Hurt.

Is that how it goes?

And she listens and plays.

Sometimes she gets hurt, and scared.

But he tells her that he loves her, and that it is their secret and she should not tell anyone or her parents would be very angry at her. So she listens. After all, he is a grown up. He must be right. And he is someone who loves her family. Why does it make her uncomfortable then? Why does it hurt?

But it is not a one-off story.

“It was my teacher. She was someone I was close to at the time, and it used to happen after school when she used to keep me there for remedial classes.”

How could she tell her parents?

I mean, that would be saying that a woman was molesting a girl, a teacher at that. And she had been told to be careful of strange men. No one talked about women. All she remembered was that she had frozen when it had happened. And had then always pretended that the incident had never taken place. And there are many many others.

“It was my qari sahib (person who teaches the Holy Quran), when my parents were in their room.”

“It was my older cousin who used to snuggle up close when all the cousins used to get together for sleepovers. I told my parents, but I don’t think anything happened after that.”

Imagine all the stories.

Try to visualise what happens when the uncle and the little girl are alone.

Does that make you uncomfortable?

Oh, I am sorry. I keep forgetting that we should not make people uncomfortable by bringing up this issue. The little girl? What little girl? I suppose she is not people, so let us forget about that. If we don’t talk about it, I am sure such incidents won’t happen. They don’t exist. Right? Mufti Naeem seems to think so.

That is the approach that has been taken by us for years, and it doesn’t seem to be working. Whilst we were busy avoiding all issues that make us uncomfortable, there were over 3,508 cases in 2014 of child-sexual-abuse reported by Sahil. The actual number of cases would be much much higher, given our tendency to either not report such incidents or simply ignore them. Given that no structural changes are taking place, this figure is not likely to go down.

But I am sure that not talking about this helps. That is what we do, right?

From rape to sex education to child-abuse, we have always condoned a policy of abiding by the norms and the (pretty pathetic) ‘cultural and family values’ of not talking about the issue.

The result?

A sad state of apathy.

My personal favourite argument for the defence of such values is the religious one: our religion doesn’t look favourably upon educating young children about such issues, and such issues should not be discussed in public or schools. Or how Mufti sahab puts it in the video above, things like this don’t happen in our society because we are all Muslim. Because being a Muslim gives you the divine right to be innocent of every crime, yes? And because denial is what we do best, right?

My question: what religion would condone child-sexual-abuse by not allowing for protection against it? None. So what religion do you follow? Inadvertently (I would argue consciously), you become a part of the problem.

Yet, this argument tends to prevail in the joke of a society, a sell-out media and the political playground we have. The media has conveniently not made this out to be a big issue. But why would they? It is not like they like taking responsibility to create the change. Neither do any institutions. The Facebook page ‘Talk, Dammit was shut down after the administrator started raising this issue and came under immediate fire. The child-abuse scandal in Kasur with allegedly over 280 victims was quickly dismissed under the pretext of a land dispute case by Rana Sanaullah, even after the police reported to having at least 30 child-abuse videos. But, since it is only 30 videos ‘officially’ and not 400 as reported, we can now dismiss it as a non-issue. It is what we do as people, isn’t it?

What of the parents who did not report the issue as they wanted to save face, not just in this case, but in most such cases? What face are they saving? Because to me, it sends out the message that we are okay with our child being abused and raped, as long as people don’t find out about it since, as a nation, we are so concerned about our image than the actual problems that exist. And it seems to be working out great.

And our clergy. Over the numerous years, I have not heard a single sermon in the mosque even talking about this. I am yet to witness any widespread campaign by any group claiming to be the champions of religion that deals with this issue. I am sure they have better issues to deal with, such as the problems of co-education, or how the Women Protection Bill is un-Islamic. But for them, including our beloved Mufti sahab, this issue doesn’t exist. If it does, it does where no one can see it, in the blanket of the night, and so… it’s okay.

With a lack of uproar from the public, to the uncaring institutions and the pseudo-clergy that we have, everyone seems to be okay with this. So, from the law-makers to those implementing it, everyone is responsible.

The question is, are you?

I am sure you are not. I am sure you educated your child about sex and all that comes along at the right time. I am sure you support sex education in schools. I am sure you want the sermons in the mosque to be about issues such as these. I am sure that in your daily lives, you think of these as bigger issues than how our society is becoming immoral due to inter-gender friendships, western ideas and modern clothes. I am sure you want politicians to talk about it in the mandate for elections given that over nine children were abused a day over the first six months of 2015. But, if you do not, are you a part of the problem? Do you condone these acts?

Abbas Shahid

Abbas Shahid

The author is a Marketing student at New York University and a LUMS graduate. He has worked in a host of different industries including education, corporate, research and non-profit. He travels, debates and does photography in his free time. He tweets at @abbasshahid_ (twitter.com/abbasshahid_)

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