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Citizen Voices Human Rights Justice

How To End The Vicious Cycle Of Child Abuse?

Shabana Mahfooz discusses the rising cases of child abuse and the need to reform societal setup and education system to end the menace.

Seven men gang-rape a 13 year old girl in Kasur; a young cleric along with his friends rapes and murders his 9 year old niece in Lahore. An 11 year old is raped and killed in Islamabad, with the deceased body found beyond recognition due to severe deterioration. And the list goes on. Some culprits get nabbed and punished, others remain free. I keep writing for the poor victims and so do others. We all keep deploring the heinous act. And yet, the tab keeps ticking, while I gradually fall back in a state of uncomfortable numbness.

Since Zainab was gone, reports of child abuse cases soared. The nation agreed that it was not that an incident suddenly provoked similar acts; the crime had for long been committed in our society. It has by now, seeped like a deadly virus in the sick minds of the culprits.

It has long been hushed and silenced by mothers out of fear of ‘fall from grace’. It has conveniently been discarded by law makers and law enforcers due to lack of credible evidence. But only when it has begun to be reported almost immediately and spread to awareness rapidly, has the pace of justice hastened. Still, the tab keeps ticking.

We implore swift and strict punishment. We introspect and try to find faults in ourselves. Is it negligence on the parts of parents to let their young daughters leave the safe boundary of their homes and walk unprotected on the streets? In majority of the cases where young girls were abused, they had left unaccompanied to attend lessons at a seminary or a coaching centre or simply to play. It’s not that their parents are negligent: it’s the way it has been for years. Kids grow up playing in the neighbourhood. At a certain age, when they have both confidence and independence, they can make short trips on their own. Is there no way that the streets of Pakistan can be safe again, where no fear lurks in the dark?

We warn each other that we have become ignorant of the evils of society. We are too gullible to display the innocent charms of our girls, to allow them to dress in fashionable clothes, to let them walk out and have hungry eyes set on them.
So should we suffocate them in layers of cloth? Should we hide their identity so much, that they themselves forget how they look like? Should we deny the simple pleasures each adolescent girl wants to have, which we all women enjoyed ourselves when young?

And even if we were to ensure adult company for the children’s safety, or ‘decent’ clothing at all times, what to do when a familiar face breaks a trust and strikes with lust and terror? What to do of the uncles, the cousins, the neighbours, who seem dependable, who with the Holy book learnt by heart, carry a certificate of moral excellence, and yet, commit an act of unimaginable indecency?

It is this plague, of frustration, of unrequited love, of a vicious cycle of abuse that we have to reach. We have already, to some extent, crossed the boundary of shame. In any case, what is there to protect, when your child is brutally ravished upon? What is left to hide, when your loved one is found dead in a field, in an empty building, a vacant plot or a heap of garbage? What consolation can one give you, when the apple of your eye is torn apart so heartlessly? It can only be when the offender is caught, is dealt with an iron hand and is punished in an exemplary manner. And to have this consolation, you need to face the world and let them know what terror has struck your home.

You and me, also need to understand, what makes a person move to such animal instincts? I cannot bear to think of the thoughts, the mentality, the plans, the motives a pedophile contemplates. The reasons why he chooses an innocent victims for his lust.

The traps which he uses to get hold on his victim. The moment he begins the assault. The ruthlessness with which he breaks a gentle soul and the cunningness with which he attempts to hide his identity after the crime. But I have to come out of my comfort zone and experience the discomfort of understanding the background and the motive, in order to remove them.

We need to understand what provokes such actions. We need to correct our moral teachings. We urgently should be reconsidering our societal set up as well as educational systems. A culprit should be punished, severely. But can we stop the culprit from committing the crime? Can we think of a campaign which somehow, reaches the secret crevice of a pedophile’s mind and urges him to rethink the horror he is planning to act on?

Seven sexual predators who allegedly gang-raped a teenage girl in Kasur, have not been arrested so far, nor has the culprit of the 10 year old Farishta. However, the cleric who raped his niece has been nabbed and has unsuccessfully pleaded for forgiveness. In the wake of the recent string of incidents of child abuse in the country, the prime minister has proposed a death penalty for all child abusers and moved the cabinet for legislation. The step is widely acclaimed, but I still feel unsafe.

For I still fear, that those who resort to sexually abusing a child, will move more cautiously and try hard to cover all evidence. I fear, that their urge would be so strong, that no punishment would deter them. A punishment may bring justice, but it never brings back the soul which a child – dead or alive, loses in the process.

I sense the sickly hands still groping for their prey. And as I may witness more grim tales of the horrible crime, I keep falling, in a state of uncomfortable numbness, in a tunnel of darkness. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, still far away. I reach out, not aware of when the journey would end.



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