‘We are all guilty, our guilt stems from our silence’

Doctors confess child sexual abuse cases have gone unreported before media highlights them at KLF

Maliha Nasir February 11, 2018
Doctors confess child sexual abuse cases have gone unreported before media PHOTO:FILE

KARACHI: On Friday evening, a panel discussion at the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) became a support group. Health professionals, civil society activists, parents and students united to break the silence over cases of child sexual abuse rampant in Karachi.

The panel unanimously agreed that child sexual abuse is a social menace present in the private and public sphere and has been muted before the media drew attention to it.

While moderating the session, lawyer Nausheen Ahmad cited a report saying, “It has been recorded that 1.2 children per day in 2002 and four children per day in 2006 are sexually abused”.

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She added that, “It has been observed that abduction of children usually implies sexual abuse, if abduction cases are included, then the number of sexually abused children increases from 1.88 children per day in 2002 to 6.7 children per day in 2006”.

Ahmad pointed out that these figures are old and suggest that we critically assess whether this issue, which has recently been highlighted by the media, has so far been shunned and tabooed. She handed over the floor to community activist Dr Shershah Syed.

“Let us first debunk the myth that sex offenders are strangers. The abortion cases I have handled in my career have mostly been due to sexual abuse by domestic staff, father’s closest friends, maternal or paternal uncles, school teachers, tuition teachers or madrassah teachers,” he said. Syed explained that young girls are mostly abused by someone familiar to them and someone close to their families and hence choose to remain silent.

He said that the media’s emphasis on reporting the case of Zainab’s brutal rape and murder has deepened insight into the recurrence of such cases. “We ought to thank the media for highlighting this issue and for creating awareness. We should take it on from here to prosecute, criminalise and prevent sexual abuse.”

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Speaking about preventive measures, he said that instead of mulling over the sensationalism over ‘sex education’, every state institution can address this issue keeping in mind the cultural norms simply by teaching biology at school level.

“Not just me but all my colleagues have come across cases of sexual abuse and incest. Paediatricians have seen young boys enduring injuries from sexual abuse,” said gynaecologist Dr Sadia Pal. “It is alarming that young medical officers have been hushed up by senior staff when they have tried to help victims beyond treatment.”

Recalling an earlier case, she said that the rape of a 13-year-old was thoroughly reported by the media. The girl was 10 weeks pregnant and could have been given medical treatment but weeks and weeks passed and nobody, doctors, hospital administration or legal workers, took notice of her condition.

“We are all guilty, our guilt stems from our silence,” she said in exasperation. “The media has taken up this issue and talked about it but our professional bodies have done nothing. We do nothing, we do not even report it. We just sit and keep seeing one [case] after the other.”

Sexual harassment laws in Pakistan

Corroborating with Dr Syed observations, Dr Pal added, “There is no limitation of child abuse incidents, it happens in homes, schools and public settings”.

Pal exclaimed that she is talking about this issue for the first time in such a situation. She added that young boys go through more sexual abuse because they are more accessible in Pakistan.

Psychiatrist, Dr Murad Moosa Khan spoke about the expectations the victim’s parents have from doctors and the causes of such cases. He said medical students are not trained to tackle this issue. “We are only following a bio-medical model, only addressing physical damages. The psychological and social aspects are totally removed. Faced with such traumatic incidents, doctors who choose to address these issues do it by default not design.”