Nelson Mandela once said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats it’s children.”
Indeed we are a society with its soul rotten to the core and conscience dead when it comes to treatment given to our children: our investment for future, our ray of hope. With their bodies violated, dignity butchered, personalities distorted, their tears and fears are thrown into the backyard of our memories and the horrors of the evil done haunts them for the rest of their lives. They are blackmailed or condemned to silence by the taboos created by the very society which ought to treat it’s children well.
The Kasur gory is not first of its kind, not only were 280 children abducted and sexually abused but over 400 videos made to blackmail their families into remaining silent over the issue. But what’s even worse is the manner in which this case is being dealt with as one stalwart of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz quite surprisingly (or well it should not come as a surprise) opined quite shamelessly that child rape cases should not be reported as they bring shame to the society. It is this sickening mindset which enables the perpetrators to blackmail their victims, “shame” is the tool they use to manipulate their victims.
So the question is who should these children hold responsible, for what happened to them, apart from the accused?
The first responsibility rests on the state to protect the children from such crimes, punish the perpetrators and compensate as well as rehabilitate the victims. Pakistan has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 19 of which obliges state parties amongst other things, to take appropriate action in form of legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to “protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent, parents or legal guardian.” By virtues of Article 34 (a) states are required to protect the child from inducement or coercion to engage in any unlawful sexual activity such as prostitution or pornography. An Optional Protocol on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography came into force on 18 January 2002 to deal with this issue. Similarly under Section 375 (v) of Pakistan Penal Code, even consensual sex with a girl under the age of 16 is a criminal offence, let alone a non-consensual one. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2014 stipulates that Section 292 B outlawing child pornography be inserted into Pakistan Penal Code. The rights activist as a knee jerk reaction are now demanding that harshest punishments be given to the rapists as Section 376 Pakistan Penal Code under which this offence falls only provides life imprisonment as the punishment for this offence, instead this crime should fall under the anti terrorism provisions and death sentence be awarded to the convicts of child sexual abuse. Though we are all very disturbed at the nauseating details of this horrific incident and demand justice but decisions taken as knee jerk reactions and where revenge is the prime consideration are destructive in nature, as we have seen post December 16 that emotions prevailed over reason and this can have grave repercussions in the long run.
There are quite a few pending pieces of legislation which are child specific at both National and Provincial level for instance the National Commission on the Rights of the Children Bill is still pending which can monitor implementation of child rights standards. The laws which have been passed are not enforced; even today child marriages are very prevalent despite the existence of laws defying it. Furthermore, there seems to be no comprehensive policy to protect children who are thrown at the mercy of the society and its associated evils, these include street children, domestic servants, low-wage child workers in brick kilns, car repair workshops etc.
There are no mechanisms to check violation of child rights inside the houses as the private/public dichotomy of law prevents a state from eroding the “privacy” of the family. We are oblivious of the number of children being coerced into incest or forced marriages every year. Corporal punishment is widely practiced which though is accepted under international law as a means to “discipline” the child, and only if it is absolutely necessary and proportionate, but children are beaten black and blue by their families or school teachers in many instances. No one would intervene or even condemn as it is generally accepted that parents have a right to discipline their child the way they deem fit. The legislation criminalizing corporal punishment was recently passed but we are yet to see to what extent it shall get enforced.
We have left our children vulnerable, insecure and not brave or confident enough to discuss the abuses meted to them. Parents are to be blamed as well for being negligent (in few cases if not all) because if your child goes through such a trauma the first question that begs or seeks importance is on the priorities in life at the time your child was going through that horrific experience. This problem is not class specific, even irresponsible parents from privileged backgrounds leave their children at the mercy of their servants or relatives while making their careers or busy enjoying their lives, totally ignorant of the fact that they need to protect their children from any possibly unpleasant situation. At times the worst comes from where it is least expected and parents must understand that no one is a saint and even the closest relatives can do such gruesome things to their children and ruin their personalities forever.
It is also imperative to prepare the children for the realities of life. Though parental control is very important and so is preserving the innocence of children and in our society great integrity is attached to the notion of family, but sex education is instrumental in preventing such incidents. It may be very uncomfortable for parents or teachers to openly discuss such issues but there should be a suitable curriculum with qualified sex education, balancing on one hand the urgency of educating the children and on the other hand telling only that which is required and necessary. Furthermore, there should not only be prevention and protection but also rehabilitation of those who have suffered. It’s very important for these child victims to speak and discuss, they should be brought back to life, their shattered and broken personalities built upon and addressed adequately. The societal mindset ought to be changed towards victims of sexual crimes, the guilt of being responsible for getting violated is institutionalized and fear of being rejected is even stronger. The families of the victims feel that their honor has been torn to shreds but it’s very important to realize that no honor can take precedence over the sanctity of human life and integrity, bad things can happen to anyone in life.
The criminal justice system should be overhauled to give greater protection to children, to make the proceedings less intimidating and at no stage of their experience with the law enforcement paraphernalia should they be given feeling of being guilty of their misfortune. There should be adequate enforcement of law, prosecution of perpetrators and a free call-line which is operating 24-7 (we do have 1121 in Punjab, but apparently the numbers are not working) where children can report any kind of violence or threat of violence targeted against them.
It is the need of time and matter of utmost urgency to protect our children. If not now then when? If not us then who?