Children Of God
The fireball Chief Minister of Punjab after visiting the grieving parents of a sexually abused and later murdered girl aged six stated that a high ranking Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will be formed to bring the culprits of this horrendous crime to justice. Zainab’s dead body was recovered from a trash heap, almost 2 kilometers away from her home, situated in Kasur district. The news of a six-year-old, sexually assaulted and later brutally killed, shocked the entire nation.
However, this gruesome incident bears an uncanny similarity to other cases where innocent children have been sexually abused in the past. According to police reports, Zainab’s was the twelfth child sexual abuse case in the past year in Kasur. In 2015, the infamous child pornography scandal in the district was uncovered, where sexually explicit videos of minor children were made and later sold in marketplaces. There was a widespread uproar over the incident throughout the country along with the usual condemnations made by people in the highest echelons of power. A strict notice was taken by all state institutions that pledged to eradicate the ignoble disease of child sexual abuse. Additionally, the same master of rhetoric, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) similar to the one announced by him on 11th January, 2018 to investigate the incident. Efforts were also made by Parliament to introduce legislation to curb this wicked offence.
The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2016 for the first time introduced the offence of child sexual abuse and child pornography by amending the Pakistan Penal Code of 1860 and inserting two new sections, namely 292-B and 377-A, dealing with child pornography and sexual abuse respectively. These offences are punishable under the newly introduced amendment with a prison sentence extending to seven years and a fine of five hundred thousand rupees. Previously, there were no laws that dealt with the specific commission of child sexual abuse in the country.
However, despite these attempts, statistics indicate that there is an awfully high number of child sexual abuse cases that have been perpetrated in Pakistan. According to independent surveys conducted by non-governmental organisations, 11 children are sexually abused each day in the country. The vile trend of child sexual abuse is much more pervasive in rural areas than it is in the urban centres of the country. According to a report published by Sahil, an NGO working for child protection, 4,139 children fell victim to sexual abuse in Pakistan with an astounding 76% belonging to rural areas.
The ever-rising number of child sexual abuse cases illustrates that this evil cannot be eliminated by virtue of legislation alone. The growing number of occurrences heralds the social and moral degeneration that has permeated our society. Society as a whole needs to take dramatic steps in order to cure this disease as the government alone is incapable of eradicating child sexual abuse from our nation.
Specialised educational training programs pertaining to child sexual abuse should be initiated in educational institutions throughout the country. These programs should enlighten children about the issue of child sexual abuse and victimisation, including how to react when a sexual offender approaches them. These programs should have components that are not only directed towards students but also instruct teachers, parents and other youth service staff in our country. The responsibility of preventing such incidents from occurring in the future also lies on parents, who should be sensitised through such educational programs so that they can take preventive measures and adopt appropriate safeguards. Parents should educate their children on the differences between a good touch and a sexually offensive touch by a stranger or even a family member. Furthermore, religious scholars of our country should also tackle the issue of child sexual abuse by inculcating a sense of responsibility to curb this offence among their followers and introducing religious teachings against this social evil in their sermons and lectures.
The rampant incidents of child sexual abuse can only be countered by collective responsibility shared by our government, religious scholars, civil society, parents and educational institutions. Tragedies like the murder of Zainab can only be avoided in the future by adopting this approach and culprits can be brought to justice. We as a nation suffer from short-term memory and tend to forget horrible occurrences like the murder of Zainab soon after the media stops highlighting the same. However, the legacy of Zainab should provide increased awareness on part of our society to eradicate this social menace once and for all.
An earlier version of this article appeared in The Nation. Republished here with permission.
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