- 17 Feb - 23 Feb, 2018
Whose Kasur Is It?
- 03 Feb - 09 Feb, 2018
Sumbul* was dropped by her school van. Her day at school was tough. The nine-year-old’s colour box was taken by one of the school bullies. Stepping up the staircase to her apartment she was in a rush to tell her mother how evil the school bully was. On the second floor she was stopped by a postman. “Ruko,” and she abided, for the postman was the one who would drop couriers at Sumbul’s home. And that same man abused her in her residential building. “I was shocked and froze to my spot,” she recalls the incident that happened two decades back but one that is still vivid in her mind. On reaching home she managed to tell her mother about the tale of her missing colour box. As for the abuse, “To date I haven’t been able to speak about it to anyone. And this wasn’t the only time I was abused.”
Many like the 29-year-old Sumbul choose to stay mum about these moments and not speak about it to members of their primary circles. Most would like to assume a child that age, in Sumbul’s case nine, wouldn’t know a crime was being committed with their body. “I knew this wasn’t right and was not comfortable speaking about it to anyone,” Sumbul reveals.
Why is it so that she complained to her mother about the missing colours but not the violation her body was put through? MAG contacted Dr Ayesha Bedar, a clinical psychologist based in Karachi why a child shies away from communicating with their loved ones about the abuse they have faced, she shares, “We don’t provide tools in this case, vocabulary, to our children to talk to us about such issues.”
Baro Ka Kehna Manna Chaiye (obeying what the elders say) is what the children are taught. “That’s problematic. We aren’t teaching them to believe their body is their own. It’s ok if they don’t want hugs,” Bedar says adding “if no physical contact is what the kids want than that’s all right.”
Till the time this piece comes out in print, it will be a month when the girl in a pink blazer, whose photo has been doing the rounds all over social, electronic and print media, disappeared from home and was later found in a garbage heap. Zainab Ansari, the seven-year-old girl was on her way to a Quran class on Road Kot, Kasur, Punjab, from where she was abducted – and her case is the 12th similar case which has occurred within a two-kilometre radius of the town within the last year.
It was in Kasur in 2015, when about 280 children under the age of 14 were being filmed and abused in Hussain Khanwala.
According to a special report published by The News on Sunday, “Kasur does not even feature in the top-5 most vulnerable cities of Punjab, much less than of Pakistan. It is actually Muzaffargarh that has the highest reported number of child abuse cases.”
As the trend #JusticeForZainab was gaining momentum, Asma, a four-year-old girl from Jandarpur locality in Gujjar Garhi, Mardan district went missing. And her body was found in a sugarcane field on January 13. Being raped and then murdered, Asma’s case was similar to Zainab’s but it did not gain much attention.
Another similarity between the two girls was that the two met their atrocious fate by their perpetrator when the male head wasn’t around. In Zainab’s case her parents were in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah while Asma’s father, Behram Khan works as a labourer in Saudi Arabia.
Zainab, Asma… the name keeps changing but the crime committed by the abuser surfaces and resurfaces each day. It was Zainab’s case that caught the limelight. Why?
“I think she was a very relatable child. Belonging to the middle-class we kind of relate to her. Zainab looked like she was one of us, we could identify with her,” Bedar says.
According to Mamtaz Gohar, Senior Program Officer at Sahil, a non-governmental organisation, “Was there only one Malala in Pakistan? In wars only one or two get Nishan-e-Haider, does that mean others don’t lay down their lives?”
Gohar mentions that the team at his NGO monitors 90 newspapers each day. “As per the data of 2016, 11 child abuse cases were reported everyday.” As per stats compiled by Sahil for the first six months of 2017, 129 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in Kasur only, out of which 34 were abductions and 23 were rapes.
According to Sahil’s Cruel Numbers, a six-month report, “From Jan-Jun 2017, total 1,764 cases of child abuse were reported which has decreased by 17% as compared to the 2,127 cases of Jan-Jun 2016. Out of which 752 cases were carried out by an acquaintance while 291 were committed by an acquaintance with a stranger.”
This decrease could be a reflection of media focus on the political issues in the country when abuse cases do not remain a priority. Talking about the decline in the cases reported on child sexual abuse, we inquired if the media is not highlighting the issue? “When media’s attention is focused on other issues then less cases are reported; for instance, in times of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad more focus was on it,” Gohar says.
Then the taboos which inflict our society also hinder the parents of the victims to register the cases. “Only if parents think they want justice for their child and let go off the taboos, then more of these cases will get reported, for which there needs to be awareness at grass-roots level.”
Non-issues are what the media keeps highlighting as Gohar says, “None of the social issues are discussed on prime time shows.”
Like in Sumbul’s case and countless others that go unreported, the need of the hour is to speak about it. And for that to materialise, a relationship between the child and the parent/guardian is utmost. In most cases, kids are taught strangers are dangerous but it’s within families and intimate circles where the abuser has a strong foothold. Because the child is pestered to obey the relatives that is what the abuser banks on. “Child abuse is all about over powering – sexual violence is about exerting control and this is why children are mostly the victims as they are easy to control,” Bedar shares. “Not leaving kids on their own in the light of such heinous occurrences is unrealistic, and is not even desirable,” she adds. What needs to be done is that grown-ups need to be involved. “Children need to be educated just like they are taught to take care of their hair and what they should do when faced with danger. Similarly they should be taught to take care of their body.” Gohar points out the outdated curriculum that is being taught in schools. “Child protection reforms and long-term strategies need to be implemented. Instead of politicising this case, justice should prevail.”
Do we need to inculcate sex education in schools? “It’s more about body education rather than sex education,” says Bedar. “A child should be taught the difference between good and bad touch, and that good touch is not done secretly.”
In times of social media brigades, each individual can share their opinions that can go viral within seconds. In such an age, gatekeeping is at the hands of all those using the new media’s tools. When the alleged rapist and murderer of Zainab, Imran Ali was caught, the social media was taken up by storm to hang him. MAG contacted Waheed Ahmad, Chairman Child Rights Committee Lahore Bar Association to comment on public hangings. “We need to set examples in certain cases and take a few hard steps.” Having 18 years of practice, Ahmad, highlights that a rape victim’s trial should be in a proper way. “The accused and the victim should not be made to have eye contact. If the victim is a child how will they face the accused?”
With DNA test as an important element in tracing down Zainab’s alleged rapist and murderer, should forensic results be used as primary evidence in such trials? “DNA is an important part of evidence but some judges consider it crucial while others do not,” Ahmad mentions.
What parents need to implement first and foremost is to educate their children about their bodies. If a child feels unsafe with an acquaintance, they need to pay heed to their qualms rather than shunning and forcing them to have physical contacts with their elders. Obedience shouldn’t be mandatory. Handshakes can express endearment too. Focus should be on a child’s unusual behaviour. And unless trust is built between the child and the guardian, a barrier will persist which will eventually result in another Zainab.
What also needs to be considered is the media’s role in what is shown to the younger generation. In most cases, the early hours of the day have absolutely rubbish content being aired with weddings and what not taking place on sets. Similarly, in Sahir Lodhi’s show, a dance segment has kids who are made to dance on set numbers for which they rehearse before performing in front of an audience. Not just any songs but Bollywood item songs. If this is the material being shown to evolving minds, what will they learn? With smartphones and tablets available to most, it doesn’t take much effort for the kids to go through inappropriate content on the internet which is available to them on their fingertips. Who is then to blame?
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