Childhood Snatched Too Soon
The children of this country are its greatest assets. It is not just my responsibility or yours but it is the responsibility of our whole society to raise mentally and physically healthy children. These children are the future of Pakistan and our hope for a prosperous and self-sufficient country. Having said that, I believe that we as a nation have failed our children. Statistics released in SAHIL’s annual report titled ‘Cruel Numbers 2015’ show that 10 children have been sexually abused everyday in the year 2015. These figures only show reported cases and there are many other such cases that go unreported due to cultural and religious sensitivities which label such matters as a taboo.
Our children face various problems such as child labor and sexual, physical and verbal abuse. To add to this problem, our silence and inaction as a nation has only amplified social, physical and psychological consequences that sexual abuse has for victims. The real problem lies in the stereotypical thinking of the society. Even the educated class in the urban areas would be hesitant to step out of the comfort of their homes and go register cases of child abuse due to the stigma attached to this topic. Furthermore, it is also very important for Pakistan to realize its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and bring into action some concrete policies and plans to curb such cases.
Spokesperson for the Child Rights Movement, Iftikhar Mubarak submitted that the government should establish a department or an independent authority to holistically deal with child abuse cases and protection of children from all kinds of abuses. Pakistan was rocked by a huge pedophile scandal in August 2015 when it was exposed that hundreds of pornographic videos of children from Hussain Khanwala village had been filmed and circulated. In view of the increasing rate of child abuse in the country, the Senate passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2015 on 11th March 2016. The law raises the age of criminal responsibility from seven to ten years of age and introduces a number of critical changes to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) by taking a wider view of acts that constitute child abuse. Under the revised legislation, sexual assault against minors, child pornography and trafficking are categorized as punishable acts.
Considering the fact that 40% of the population of Pakistan comprises of children under 18 years of age, the changes in the law were not only long overdue but also legally necessary according to our international obligations. Pakistan has been a signatory to the UNCRC since 1990, but its laws have failed shamefully and scandalously in protecting children from sexual abuse at the hands of both predacious adults and older children. This pressing issue gained media attention time and again through stories of children abused in homes, schools and madrassahs or on the streets. Unfortunately, it took a particularly horrific incident of child abuse in Kasur district to shock the country and society enough to wake up and take proactive measures against the abusers who walk amongst us.
Although it is encouraging to see laws being legislated to deal with crimes against minors but the actual question is that of implementation. Steps must be taken to ensure the effective implementation of laws along with awareness of this pertinent issue to make sure that people, including the victims, recognize sexual abuse and hence report it. Further considering the infelicitous state of children in our country, child marriage laws are also among the critical aspects of such incidents. Various changes were suggested in the Child Marriage Act 1929 but as expected they were declared un-Islamic and slammed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs. Another worrisome situation that has come to light in the recent months is that of ‘child abductions’ in the province of Punjab. Alarmingly, social media and news channels are filled with stories of child kidnappings every day. However, the government and police have failed to control such a serious problem and the numbers of missing children are rising with each passing day.
There is a need for the society to get educated, be fully aware of these pressing brutalities taking place against our children and break the prudish silence on such issues. Not joining hands and raising voices against these unspeakable acts of brutality would only leave our children completely hapless, dejected and morose. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act is only a small step, yet it is a step towards eliminating a malady that was in the dark for so long. It is high time that we work towards protecting and nurturing the future of Pakistan. Law enforcement agencies and the government have to streamline their energies into making this law effective and successful because it is the only hope this nation is relying on for the safety of our children from a dangerous illness.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.