Safety of children

Published: January 14, 2018

The rape and murder of a child in Kasur has provoked responses in provincial assemblies as well as on the streets, with violence breaking out that led to the death of two people in Kasur, killed by the police who fired live rounds directly into the crowd. Another child was raped and murdered in Punjab within 36 hours of the Kasur rape and murder. The case caught the attention of international news organisations that have featured it prominently. Social media have been alight with rage, politicians have rushed hither and thither issuing condemnatory statements as they do, and beyond calls for the public hanging of the killer(s) when caught there has been little discussion about how the safety of children can be improved and who or what was/is responsible.

There is no single or simple answer, no plug-and-play solution. There is certainly no solution in vigilante justice and the serial suspension of senior police officers and the announcement of ‘enquiries’ that disappear in puffs of smoke takes nothing forward. Neither does the politicisation of child sexual abuse or the playing of the sectarian card as has happened in Kasur. There is no national policy regarding child sexual abuse and how to combat it, and no agreement as to how it may be moved into the national school curriculum, to say nothing of getting it into any of the thousands of madrassas that would fight tooth-and-nail to exclude any sort of sex education. There is new legislation on the books but it takes time to implement and anyway legislation is one thing, attitudinal change quite another. There are powerful taboos that have to be breached and profound cultural resistance everywhere.

The outlook is bleak and a very dark reality has to be faced. Child sexual abuse is widespread, frequently unreported or acted upon even if it is reported, and is carried out principally by family members or friends of the family. Those being abused and killed often know their assailants personally. There is no clear picture of how many children are abused and as with honour killing there is no national attempt to quantify. The numbers of children that are raped and killed every year is going to continue to rise, and will not begin to decline until there are societal changes that are deep and profound and that could take generations.

Pakistan is no more likely to eradicate child sexual abuse (CSA) than any other country, and to date no country has. It is present in every country and culture and faith group, no exceptions. The incidence varies from country to country; what also varies — wildly — is the national response to CSA. Children are safer in some countries than others and Pakistan, as evidenced by the admittedly inaccurate data, fares poorly.

Given the profile of the most recent of the Kasur cases — there have been many others — it is possible but not probable that there will be an arrest or arrests. As to when the case comes to trial, and the quality of the evidence presented by the prosecution and the police, plus the possibility of the defendant negotiating a blood-money deal with the family of the murdered child — nothing is clear cut. Guilty men — and women — have walked free from Pakistani courts as cases fail on all of the above grounds. Police procedure and evidence gathering and recording are woefully inadequate everywhere, and with cases involving the sexual abuse of children police competencies are low to non-existent.

The best that can be hoped for is a concerted and determined effort to mitigate CSA. Raising public awareness and teaching children about inappropriate touching in schools are both doable in the here and now. Both the means and the infrastructure are there to make both happen. We can all contribute to the protection of our children, not just those we are parent to — starting today. 

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2018.

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