Child Sexual Abuse: Without Addressing Root Causes, Remedial Action Is Bound To Fail
Another day, another child raped and murdered in this country. Or murdered, and then raped, as was last week’s case in Sundar, Lahore. Heartrending as every such incident is, media coverage of these cases is rather erratic.
Some incidents take over the public consciousness through frenzied media attention while others go by largely unnoticed, relegated to a corner news item in the papers or a 1-minute TV report. This overt imbalance leads the more cynical to surmise that the attention any such case gets is reflective less of state and society’s genuine outrage at such a heinous crime and has more to do with the politics of ulterior motives. Among the general public, an oft-mouthed opinion on the increasing incidence of child sexual abuse is thecategorically apathetic “this thing has always been happening; it’s because of the media that we get to hear so much about it nowadays.”
Be that as it may, there is expert consensus that reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The malaise of child sexual abuse is much more widespread behind the veil of social niceties, ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ than anyone is willing to admit. The rational question to ask at this point, therefore, is what are state and society doing, or are willing to do, to safeguard our future which is very literally embodied by our children.
A ready answer to this from government circles would be the ZainebAlert, Response & Recovery Act, 2019, named after the 6-year old Zaineb Ansari whose abduction, rape and murder in Kasur inJanuary 2018 took the airwaves by storm and evoked a strong public reaction the likes of which we haven’t seen on any similar case since. However, as the name suggests and as a reading of the Act confirms, ZARRA is almost entirely about after-the-fact response to child abduction. It does not address the what and the why of the phenomenon of child sexual abuse nor makes provision for any interventions towards prevention, preemption and control. The same is largely true of Child Protection initiatives at the provincial level.
One must admit that there can be no ready panacea to phenomena as complex as child sexual abuse and the multifarious societal factors that act upon it. Extreme measures like the death penalty or chemical castration are of questionable efficacy and still do not address the root causes that enable rampant child sexual abuse. Therefore, a logical first step in the effort to arrest the spread of child sexual abuse is to attempt to identify, understand and deal with the aforesaid root causes. In this regard, the following policy interventions may prove effective:-
It goes without saying that the sexual victimization of children is as much a manifestation of the toxicity latent within a society as it is an individual crime. However, it is up to society to decide whether it wishes to act against the phenomenon in a holistic manner or just react to individual incidents.
The author is a public-sector economic development professional, and a part-time farmer in Multan. He tweets at @langahwhotweets