Girl-child rape: How she came to Heera Mandi

Published: September 25, 2013
One of the many buildings in Lahore’s red light district. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS

One of the many buildings in Lahore’s red light district. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS


Thirty-one-year-old *Kulsoom just got free entertaining her first “client” of the day, and is ready to speak to us. “Paani piyavan thanda?” (Should I serve you some cold water?), she offers, alluding to the tiny refrigerator in the corner with pride, as we feel sweat trickling down our backs, thanks to Lahore’s merciless load-shedding.

“The clients have shrunk drastically in number, due to load-shedding jee. Nobody bothers coming due to the heat. Business is down,” she says, making small talk. This cramped-up eight by 12 feet room in Heera Mandi, Lahore’s infamous red light district, is what she now calls home. The culprit behind this very real story of how a girl-child from rural Punjab ended up as a commercial sex worker is the man who raped her at age 10.

As she starts narrating her life’s story, it is almost 2 pm. The Lahore sun glares down, making her garish make-up and overly bright clothes look even more loud. The layers of cheap face-powder are unable to hide the greyish tinge her skin has developed due to years of substance abuse.

Kulsoom shares that she ran away from her home in a village in Vehari district, and never went back. “I was raped at age ten. I still have clear memories of being violated. I remember my body being very small. He was a distant relative, aged 40 plus,” she recalls. “I never told anyone, not even my parents.”

Even at age ten, she had that sense of shame that surrounds rape survivors in our society. “I kept worrying that everyone would think it was my fault!” she says. Two years later, she was married off to her maternal uncle’s son. The fear that he would find out that she had been raped resulted in her warding off her husband’s attempts at consummating the marriage. “My fear was exposure of the fact that I was not pure,” she says.

When she realised that she could not hold off the inevitable forever, she one day got on a bus to Lahore. She was 12. She landed at the Minar-e-Pakistan, and spent time out in the open, hungry and scared. Two women, domestic helpers, showed empathy. Kulsoom requested them to get her some work. They obliged.

The story that follows is expected. Kulsoom’s face has resigned acceptance as she narrates. “Once raped, whatever follows doesn’t matter, does it? The sahibs in the houses where I worked violated me, more than once,” she says, sharing that every such incident chipped away a bit of her. Kulsoom has also been raped by ex-“clients” in drunken states. “May be this is what I was destined to suffer.”All roads eventually led her to Lahore’s infamous red-light district.

Psychological trauma

Kulsoom knows that she is in one of the most dangerous professions. “I know I can get beaten or harmed. I know I can acquire sexually transmitted diseases. But I don’t think I can do anything else,” she confesses. While circumstances led her here, could the trauma of rape have anything to do with this? “When a child is sexually abused or raped, they may indulge in risky sexual behaviour, wandering from one intimate relationship to another, because they see this as a way of feeling valuable and approved. Most of this is unconsciously done,” says Sarah Jafry, counsellor at War Against Rape (WAR). “For victims, it is a lifetime sentence. They are damaged at every level. They need serious and deep therapy to heal.”

While not all child-rape survivors end up where she is, a misplaced sense of shame and sin may accompany. “I pray for myself and for the whole world. But I don’t say my namaz since I left home,” she says, feeling undeserving of the right to pray regularly.

Post-rape isolation

She craves to go back home but she dares not “because my parents are shareef people; if they find out what I have been doing, I will be killed. They don’t even know whether I am alive or dead.”

“I am better off alone,” she convinces herself, but later confesses it is a life of misery without a family. “I cook for myself and eat alone. I cook qeema once a week to treat myself,” she says.

Childhood interrupted

According to data provided by WAR, the average age of rape survivors is 14 years. “In alarming zones like the jurisdiction of the Mobina Town police station in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Karachi, repeated cases of children aged 4 to 7 years being raped and even murdered have surfaced. But nothing is done about it,” shared Sheraz Ahmed, Survivor Support Officer at WAR.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • angry citizen
    Sep 25, 2013 - 10:41AM

    This is the response we can only expect from our society as the victim has to bear all consequences and people make her feel the way as she is responsible for her own rape. She also turns into disgrace to her family which can impair the dignity of other family members, hence, as a result, victim is either killed by one of her family members or forced to suicide or becomes sex worker for the rest of her life.


  • Usman
    Sep 25, 2013 - 11:30AM

    And then the CCII has the guts to say that DNA cannot be admitted as primary ecidence in rap.e


  • suzo
    Sep 25, 2013 - 12:08PM

    @Usman; well, DNA test can’t differntiate between consensual and non-consensual relations (in the case of adults) so it can’t serve as some ‘sole, primary evidence of rape’ however as there can’t be ‘consensual sex’ with minors and all such relations are rape so, DNA fingerprinting can serve as primary evidence!


  • 007
    Sep 25, 2013 - 12:42PM

    It is such a sad story. Wonder how many Kulsooms are there who live the same life and can’t go back to their families. One of the many root causes behind such stories is large families with many children to look after. We must educate people around us that dividing our time, earnings, resources and attention among 2 kids and among 10 kids can’t be the same. Smaller families means more individual attention and care for every child. Hence, the risk / danger of child becoming victim of such crimes can also be reduced.


  • H
    Sep 25, 2013 - 12:44PM

    “The clients have shrunk drastically in number, due to load-shedding jee…”

    “because my parents are shareef people…”

    Was Kulsoom really speaking like that? I doubt that. Which leads me to ask why would you make her sound like an A-level kid who can neither speak English nor Urdu? Or you couldn’t find an English word good enough to replace “shareef”?

    Sorry for digressing.


  • suzo
    Sep 25, 2013 - 1:28PM

    @H; ‘Shareef’ can’t be translated as ‘noble’ or ‘august’ here, its not necessary that all shareefs are noble here in our beloved country and the case mentioned here, those ‘shareef’ parents could have killed her.. . However shareef can be described as conservative or those who accept social norms here


  • Maliha
    Sep 25, 2013 - 2:01PM

    Interesting topic, but not much well-written!


  • Abdullah
    Sep 25, 2013 - 2:13PM

    Sad state of affairs in “islamic republic of” Pakistan. Is there anything for which our state can take responsibility of? Just inhuman and cruel.


  • ashxheat
    Sep 25, 2013 - 2:17PM

    Like the story depict the true mentality for being a typical pakistani we have the example of Oprah Winfrey who got sexually abused at the age of 9 but rather than becoming prostitute she rises as a trend setter


  • Sep 25, 2013 - 2:47PM

    The topic is good. I have always liked your write-ups. However, this one was written in a very passé manner.


  • Farahnaz Zahidi
    Sep 25, 2013 - 2:50PM

    @H: Yes, it is an EXACT translation of her words. As a journalist I do not have the liberty to make up details or words of the subject. Thanks for reading & the feedback.


  • Zain
    Sep 25, 2013 - 3:13PM

    I am surprised how no one among our media “intellectuals” does not demand death penalty for rapists especially child rapists


  • Awais Mujeeb
    Sep 25, 2013 - 3:19PM



  • Nawaz
    Sep 25, 2013 - 7:46PM

    This is not a big deal especially when you have a crippling economy. Poverty is a root cause, address it first.


  • Danish
    Sep 25, 2013 - 8:30PM

    Very sad


  • ed79
    Sep 25, 2013 - 8:50PM

    Poverty had nothing to do with a ten year old getting raped. Lack of justice and education is the culprit.

    One more thing … it IS a big deal


  • Observer
    Sep 26, 2013 - 3:42AM

    What a sad story. What a shame that poverty and lack of education pushes these poor souls into such a miserable life. The women’s support groups in Pakistan should take up their cause and teach them now skills and provide them with alternative jobs. Their children should be given free quality education so that they are not also pushed into the flesh trade like their mothers.


  • Insaan
    Sep 26, 2013 - 4:06AM

    @suzo: DNA test can’t differntiate between consensual and non-consensual relations (in the case of adults)

    Why would a Muslim girl report consensual sex as rape? I don’t think Pakistani women even report rape by their “relatives”.

    Do you know how justice system works? DNA evidence in itself does not mean the accused person is guilty.

    Do you think that 4 pious Muslim men who actually see the penetration during the sexual act are needed to prove rape?


  • Insaan
    Sep 26, 2013 - 4:15AM

    Why did her parents marry her when she was 12?

    Was she raped at 10 because she was not wearing a proper hijab?

    Why would a 10 year girl who is raped think that “every one” will think it was her fault?


  • Insaan
    Sep 26, 2013 - 4:52AM

    @ashxheat: Like the story depict the true mentality for being a typical pakistani

    Oprah was raped by her male cousin, a boyfriend of her moms, a uncle, and a family friend. when she was nine her nineteen year old male cousin sexually abused her. she never told anyone.

    Oprah comes from a open culture where a woman or girl is not accused of getting raped. A woman is not killed for having consensual sex.

    Some time it is hard for a 10 year old to think logically.

    A timely intervention could have saved this girl

    How can a 12 year old girl even think about running away from home?

    Even at age ten she kept worrying that everyone would think it was her fault. Why?

    In countries like Pakistan, most sexual abuse happens from close relatives and people are very reluctant to see their relatives go to prison.


  • Sh3262
    Sep 27, 2013 - 4:58AM

    Interesting story. Terribly written.


  • Iqbal Ismail
    Oct 29, 2013 - 12:40PM

    Let us declare WAR on WAR forward march. Rescue the damsel.


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