It is a taboo subject in Pakistan but child molestation is quite common in our society, particularly in families where the parents or guardians are either unaware of the danger or are too unsuspecting of relatives, friends, servants and tutors. Among the last group, the religious teacher, who is considered too pious to do anything of the kind, is the most to be feared as the youngest children are put under his care to learn the Quran. The paedophile dons many garbs but the holy mantle is the most handy in this perversion.
With increasing stress on religious education under the growing influence of TV evangelists and parents having no time to take upon themselves this responsibility, young defenceless kids are being sent to madrassas or maulvis being hired to provide home tuition to boys and girls at home.
Horrifying accounts of child molestation have surfaced as a result of a survey conducted by The Express Tribune.
Parents are always worrisome about sex offenders being a threat to their children; therefore a close safeguard is upheld with strangers. However, most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims.
According to Sahil, an organisation working on child abuse and awareness raising campaigns, acquaintances including teachers, van drivers, shop keepers, servants, friends of the family, etc make up the first category of child sex offender, whereas strangers make up the second. Lastly, the third category is relatives of the child.
Unfortunately in Pakistan another kind of silent predator exists, that of the ‘maulvi saab’ (Quran instructor) who is a threat to children. While in no way stating that all ‘maulvi saabs’ are sexual offenders, this is an attempt to shed some light on few of the victims of this heinous crime.
According to Sahil’s annual report, there were 18 cases registered against clerics in 2010 and 26 in 2011. There is unfortunately no way to know the true ‘dark figure’ of child molestation, which would be shockingly higher.
Sahil Programme Officer Aqdas Fatima said that every year there is increasing analytical evidence that both girls and boys are at equal risks of molestation and fall victim to it. In fact, boys are more shy about admitting to have been molested that decreases the number of known cases. The following cases aim to shed light on such statistics.
Asia, 53, a resident of Gawalmandi area in Lahore shared an instance of sexual molestation by her religious teacher from the age of 7 to 10 years. “Me, my two sisters, brother and cousin used to all learn from the same ‘maulvi saab’. He would come to our house for the lesson twice a week. Whenever one of the girl’s would make a mistake or not be paying full attention, he would snap our skin at our thighs and other inappropriate places. If my brother would make similar mistakes he would slap him.”
When asked why they let the abuse go on for three years, she elaborated, “Back then you couldn’t tell your parents such things, they would automatically think you were in the wrong, as Quran instructors are thought of as pious. It was only when we moved from Lahore to Islamabad that the lessons stopped so the abuse stopped”.
Asia further stated the effects that this experience has had on her, saying, “I have two sons and a daughter, and have taught them the Quran myself. I also routinely ask them if they feel offended in any way by any one, because I have learnt no one is above taking advantage of children. At the end of the day, I don’t think about those experiences as much anymore but when I was younger I had psychological problems associating the Quran with a feeling of shame and powerlessness”.
The Express Tribune tried to reach Asia’s brother for his interpretation of these events, but he was not available for comment. Pursuant to popular belief, young boys are as much at risk for sexual molestation as they are confronted with a greater number of potentially dangerous situations. Jahangir*, 31, narrates his traumatic story of molestation, saying, “when I was around 8, I used to go to maulvi saab’s house with some of the other boys in my neighbourhood. We would usually all stick together but sometimes he would take us out individually for snacks after and bribe and shame us into letting him touch me.”
He further comments, “I initially thought I was the only one but then we started discussing it among ourselves, and told our parents about what he was doing”.
Kalsoom, 27, has an even more harrowing story, as her Quran instructor was also her first cousin. She narrates, “Before our Quran lessons, some of my female cousins and I had been sexually abused by him. When I learnt that I was soon to have lessons on a regular basis with him, I was horrified.”
She further states, “I became obsessive-compulsive about learning the Quran, I wanted to learn as much of it as I could on my own so the lessons would stop. I thought of telling my parents but he had made me believe that I would be held accountable, and it would tear the family apart if I said anything.”
Regrettably, these are only a few accounts of such abuse. However, a common denominator in the cases above shows a daunting fear of notifying the parents. Sexual abuse is a severely traumatic experience as is, but when the abuser happens to be a person believed to be teaching faith and religion, the trauma accrued is exponential.
*names changed to protect identity
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2012.