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Madrassas Are The Hubs of Child Abuse – About Time We Acted Against Them

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Jazib Rehman Khan looks at rape and sexual abuse in the madrassas of Pakistan. He argues that we need to speak out against this heinous act and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Yesterday, while on Twitter, I came across the dreadful news of a Manshera-based madrassa cleric, identified as Shamsuddin, who had raped a 10-year-old boy so heartlessly that the minor’s eyes started bleeding. According to the medical reports, the child was raped almost 100 times. While raping the child, the cleric assaulted the child and even tried to kill him.

Unfortunately, due to the large number of rape cases of minors, especially of those learning the Quran and Islamic teachings in madrassahs, our society as a whole has normalized these incidents. I include myself in this society too but when I looked at the bleeding eyes and assaulted face of the boy, it shook me to the core.

The rape cases prevailing in the madrassahs of Pakistan are not something new, they are a deep-rooted menace that have been destroying lives. But in our society and culture a “Mullah” enjoys great influence and is seen as a very esteemed individual. Due to this rape cases are rarely discussed or even acknowledged. Demanding the right to justice for the victims of rape in madrassahs is no less than an invitation to mob violence.

In fact, numbers are increasing at an alarming pace. 359 cases of sexual abuse by clerics have been reported in the last 10 years, that represents “barely the tip of the iceberg” as said by an official of Sahil – an NGO working against child sexual abuse since 1996.

According to the Sahil’s 2018 annual report, the boys aged between 6-10 years and 11-15 years are most exposed to child sexual abuse as compared to girls. The majority of these boys belong to the underprivileged strata of society and are studying in at least 30,000 registered madrassas across Pakistan. More than 2 million children are enrolled in these madrassas. The mentioned facts are just about the registered madrassas, there are thousands of other religious seminaries that are not registered with the state and operate without any sort of scrutiny and most of the rape and sexual abuse incidents are said to happen in these seminaries.

Poverty-stricken parents send their children to the madrassas because free food, basic education, and shelter are provided there. Therefore, when they come to know about the brutality suffered by their child, their economic condition, social stigmas, immense pressure from society force them to either take blood money or withdraw the case against the culprit.

This culture of silence has ensured the rapes, molestation and even killing of the children that are sent to hubs of sexual abuse keep coming. This culture has even guaranteed the perpetrators that they can use minors as sex objects to satisfy their inhuman sexual desperation and can get away with it. After the Zainab murder case, child rape cases were expected to drop, but unfortunately, facts have shown that they have increased. This reality proves that there are loopholes in the legal framework and its application and in our society & culture as a whole.

To address this menace, we really need to end this culture of impunity and silence. The state has to maintain its writ by ensuring justice to the victims of this inhuman and vicious act. Also, influential and respected Islamic scholars should publicly denounce and criticize this act in the strongest way possible, they must identify those involved in this heartless. And last but not the least, madrassa reforms are the need of the hour to counter rape and sexual abuse and various other issues prevailing in the madrassas of Pakistan.

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