How Can The Society Prevent Child Sexual Abuse?
In the small village of Hussain Khan Wala, demons of the most abhorrent crime of child sexual abuse were unleashed in 2015. According to the media, it was estimated that 280 to 300 children were victims of sexual abuse. Villagers also corroborated that hundreds of children were abducted, raped and were forced to perform sexual acts and that the most influential family of the village forced those children to commit sexual acts for filming pornographic videos and selling them online. This caused a countrywide outburst, sparking protests in the village of Hussain Khan Wala in August 2015 after the failure of police to stop the crime ring. The villagers demanded justice for the sexual violence committed against children.
After the protests, the government responded by introducing further legal reforms, although cases of child abuse could be registered under the Zina Ordinance 1979, which prohibits all forms of illegal sexual intercourse including rape. The Punjab Supply of Prostitution Ordinance 1961, the Sindh Child Act 1955 and the Punjab Child Ordinance 1983 also cover some form of child sexual abuse. Nonetheless, only rape and sodomy were punishable as offences and there was no legislation criminalizing sexual abuse. Subsequently, the state amended the law by adding new legal provisions strengthening child protection laws. In the Pakistan Penal Code, which outlaws child sexual abuse against minors, child pornography and trafficking were some of the offences that were added. Sexual assault is now punishable up to seven years imprisonment and child pornography is punishable by seven years imprisonment and a fine of PKR 700,000. Despite having a complex framework of laws equipped to respond to the tragedy, our system is not set up to prevent child sexual abuse and that needs to change.
After the brutal rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab Ansari in the city of Kasur, it was the popular demand of the public, senate, national government and the media that the perpetrator be hanged publicly. This motivation came from Iran’s policy to execute sexual offenders publicly in order to deter the occurrence of the crime in the society. The civil society and media demanded that the government follow in the footsteps of Iran, as the exemplary punishment would serve as the best solution to eliminate heinous crimes from society. On 17th February 2018, the Anti-Terrorism Court awarded a death sentence to the man who murdered Zainab. Zainab’s mother demanded a public hanging for the criminal at the very place her daughter was brutally raped.
Sadly, the conviction in Zainab Ansari’s case has had minimal impact in thwarting child sexual abuse from the society as many incidents of child sexual abuse remain hidden, unreported and uninvestigated and the numbers are still rising at a rapid rate. It was reported by a leading newspaper in March 2018 that two men had been arrested for subjecting many girls to sexual assault and making obscene videos in Gujranwala. Weeks later, another girl’s body was found in an agricultural field after being ruthlessly raped and murdered in Jaranwala. According to data collected by the non-governmental organization Sahil, as many as 11 cases of child sexual abuse are reported across Pakistan every day. A total of 1764 cases of child sexual abuse have been reported across the country in 2017.
As there are two sides to every coin, we must understand both perspectives on this matter. We, as a nation, have a falsifying belief that harsh punishments such as public execution will serve as the only way to reduce the rising number of inhumane acts of sexual abuse and violence against children. It is evident from the recently reported cases that our system has failed to address the increasing number of child sexual abuse cases. Focussing solely on the legal system is not enough, it is imperative to turn our attention towards preventive reforms targeting the society in general.
As children, we participated in earthquake drills after the catastrophic 2005 earthquake hit the Northern areas of Pakistan taking many lives. Children were given basic training on how to escape or run out of a building in such a situation. Similarly, child sexual abuse is an epidemic which has plagued our society. It is necessary for the state to respond to a matter of national crisis. It is the responsibility of the state to create a law based on child protection and welfare. Children need to be educated on child sexual abuse and how to report it if they are abused.
Firstly, the state should introduce a movement to break the silence on this topic that they consider taboo. The government should work with state entities and non-governmental organizations to engage lawyers, human rights activists, academics, Islamic Scholars and schools to educate the public about child sexual abuse. So many people believe that child sexual abuse cannot happen. In 90 percent of the cases the abuser is known to the child’s family and comes from a person who is loved and trusted. It can happen at home, at the mosque or in your neighbourhood. A grassroots-level movement should spread awareness about how children are at risk. A message should be given to the public to keep their eyes open and make a choice to get involved.
Good communication between the families solves half the problem: clear communication is an effective keystone for prevention. The government should start an advocacy campaign encouraging parents to educate their children about child sexual abuse as it entails a major risk to their physical and mental wellbeing. Parents should model a calm environment and be supportive and open rather than keeping quiet over sensitive issues, it encourages children and teenagers to raise issues for discussion. Parents should give age-appropriate information to the child and should encourage children to feel safe engaging in discussions. Parents should provide a safe haven to children to come to them for any issue or problem that’s bothering them. Continuously talking to your child gives a sense of security and the child feels safe coming to the parent when they have any issue or problem.
A team of activists, educators, researchers, psychologists, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders should come together to develop legislation to enhance the reporting of child sexual abuse and prevent incidents of child sexual abuse. This task-force should create and implement age-appropriate policies on child sexual abuse. Training should be given to teachers to identify abuse and how they can help children report it. Moreover, information should be included for parents in the school handbooks with warning signs and contact information for those needing assistance.
Even though this awful crime has been tackled by the courts to some extent through the imposition of strict sanctions, we need legislation making child sexual abuse education a compulsory part of school curriculum. The American Psychological Association (APA) has stressed the importance of sexual education so that children are able to recognize what parts of the body are private and that their bodies are their own and any unwanted contact is not acceptable and should not be allowed. Opening the doors of communication are very important. If children are forced to engage in any unwanted physical contact, they should know that they have the power to stop it and break their silence. It is vital for the children to know that child sexual abuse is a crime and it is necessary to provide them with safety guidelines to handle the situation if any adult forcefully engages them in sexual activity. Many psychologists say that a child who is given the confidence to report child sexual abuse is more likely to do so.
It has become an illusion that the government will introduce counter-preventive programs to break the cycle of violence. The religious circles, dogmatic as always, claim that child sexual abuse education will rob the children of their innocence. The objective of such programs is not to provide sex education, the objective of this program is to ensure that they have the awareness to recognize child sexual abuse and are provided with essential tools to report, end and further prevent child sexual abuse. The aim of this education is to teach them that their body is their own and nobody has the right to engage them in unwanted sexual activity. The archaic approach must be abandoned in favour of the larger interests and welfare of children, which should also be the highest priority of the state. Together the law and social prevention movements can play a significant role in reducing child sexual abuse.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.