Saving Our Children From Rapist Mullahs
The rape of children in Pakistan’s madrassas is a grave issue, but whenever such cases of sexual abuse have came to light in the past, religious circles always try to downplay them – terming them as ‘conspiracy’ against madrassas. The nation has not yet forgotten the horrific rape and murder of little Zainab in Kasur. We are now witnessing yet another subsequent wave of anger across the country after cleric Mufti Azizur Rehman was found sexually assaulting his student at a seminary. But merely expressing anger will not make much of a difference.
Another quandary of our social dynamics shows that whenever such an incident happens to a child, the parents of the child, instead of taking any action against the madrassa or the teacher, forcibly send the child back to the same madrassa. But this does not address the underlying cause. Even if there is another madrassa, there will be similar teachers. Imagine how severely personality of a child who has to keep reliving his trauma will be affected.
The story does not end here, but when the same child becomes a teacher after graduating from a madrassa, then it’s the vengeance time for him. He may make use of every opportunity to do the same child molestation activities at his respective madrassa as his teachers had done to him during his childhood.
Over the past several years, several dozens of FIRs have been registered against religious teachers at various police stations across the country but no decisive action has been taken against any of them; allowing the preponderance of such sex abusers.
Children studying at madrassas hail from poor socio-economic backgrounds and are usually sent to madrassas for studying the Holy Qur’an for free, and the parents do not have to pay for food and accommodation of their children.
According to police sources, the trend of crimes against children by religious teachers is not under control because many incidents are not even reported to the police. And even if the matter does reach the police, the accused are hardly convicted.
Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the introduction of modern educational requirements at religious madrassas, but apparently, this has not been implemented. In the past, preceding civil and military governments have tried to regulate madrassas and bring them in line with modern requirements, but no significant progress has been made thus far.
According to social circles, religious teachers have now become an influential group. Parents of affected children are coerced to withdraw their complaints or remain silent. In a country like Pakistan, sexually abused children face lifelong psychological disorders and social problems.
According to an NGO named SAHIL that works for the protection of children’s rights, 2960 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in Pakistan during 2020. According to figures provided by Sahil, 1,510 girls and 1,450 boys were sexually abused in the past year, with 119 cases of underage marriages and 7 cases involving girls, 50 boys, and girls. Children were sexually abused in madrassas, as well as in hospitals, hotels, cars, clinics, colleges, factories, prisons, police stations, wedding halls, cemeteries, and many other places.
During 2020, the highest number of incidents of sexual violence i.e., 1707 against children were reported in Punjab province followed by 861 in Sindh, 53 in Balochistan, 102 in the federal capital Islamabad, 215 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 18 in Azad Kashmir, and 18 in Gilgit-Baltistan. During the year 2020, 82 children were sexually abused in Lahore which is the second largest populous city of the country.
These incidents show that an average of eight children were sexually assaulted daily in 2020. This is not the time to remain gob-smacked at one more incident, but we can all do something in our individual capacities. Perhaps provincial governments can make stringent laws at provincial levels, and district level committees can work together to ensure that the culprits are brought to trials in the courts of laws and get legally demonstrated imprisonment and/or heavy fines.
Similarly, at tehsil and village levels, a focal person can be appointed to liaise with the officials of district governments ensuring that these evil child molesters are prosecuted, brought to courts of law and get legitimate punishment. Moreover, child Safety Cells should be set up in every district of the country for the prevention of violence against children and free community support, an awareness campaign for the protection of children from sexual violence should be run under the effective strategy and new laws on children should be enacted.
Create and further improve the enacted laws. Regarding children’s rights, effective support systems should be set up for the rehabilitation of children affected by sexual violence, and messages based on child protection should be made a regular part of children’s curriculum.
Parents, teachers, media, and civil society must work together to end social evils. It is important to be aware of the strict laws as well as the awareness of all, including children, parents, and teachers. Awareness material on the prevention of sexual abuse of children should be made an essential part of the national curriculum taught at schools included in the curriculum.