Sexual abuse, a taboo?

Sexual abuse is not a taboo, but a crime, and like any other crime it must be reported, investigated and punished

Mehr Tarar August 13, 2015
The writer is a former op-ed editor of the Daily Times and a freelance columnist. She can be reached on twitter @MehrTarar

The horrific report by The Nation on a Kasur-based gang allegedly involved in child sexual abuse and pornography has sent shock waves throughout Pakistan. As I think about the different parts of the report, the picture that forms in my mind is not limited to Kasur. To me, this is not merely a child sexual abuse scandal. This represents much of what is wrong with our society. And while the report has shaken Pakistan’s collective conscience, it is merely a wake-up call about a phenomenon so rampant, it is nothing short of escapism to consider it uncommon.

Without going into any sociological and anthropological discourse about a taboo subject, suffice it to say that taboos surrounding sexuality exist in all strata of our society. The Kasur sex-abuse case is not about individual choices to indulge in sexual acts, but a series of acts of sexual exploitation of minors, reportedly, since 2006 to the present-day. This is a crime against humanity on multiple levels: moral, social, legal, even if the religious aspect is set aside for a moment. Forcing minors to perform sexual acts on one another, video-taping the acts, blackmailing the victims and perpetrators and their families, and distributing/selling the videos in the local market and on the internet are all bookable crimes under any moral, social or legal code.

And that brings into focus the other ills that endorse and enable the perpetuation of such crimes, some acting as an inducement to minors being lured into participating in acts that they are either too young to understand the enormity of, or too afraid to stop.

The weaknesses and loopholes of an inherently flawed legal system serve as enablers of the exploitation of a certain class, and go hand-in-glove with corruption and cronyism of the political paradigm. Police stations do not serve as a forum where all are equal, and for a person from the underprivileged class to even be able to file an FIR is often more problematic than the original issue over which the FIR needed to be filed. There is blatant disregard when it comes to investigating the complaint, and any questioning of the perpetrator that happens occurs in a slapdash manner. Court cases drag on for longer than the complainant’s life, and most perpetrators, even when convicted, manage to escape the sentence on bail, or get a reduced sentence.

Political patronage within the police is a fact of life, and when they are not acting as the personal security detail of the self-avowed VIPs, the overworked, underpaid police are busy rounding up the usual suspects from the underprivileged class, while ignoring the real accused. Money talks, and bribery walks. How the elected members of the provincial and federal governments exploit their constituents — from one election to another — ignoring their day-to-day issues, and even major ones like the rape of their underage boys, is an indication of the weakness of the political system that is based on the manifesto of serving the nation, but fails to do so, caught up as it is in protecting criminals.

The elephant in the room is the staggering number of out-of-school children in Pakistan. Out of approximately 25 million out-of-school children, as per an Alif Ailaan report, 13 million are in Punjab and while there is huge tom-toming about the government’s efforts to overhaul the education system, this number is a stark manifestation of the low prioritisation of education. There would be no noteworthy decrease in the malaise until parents/guardians of children are fined, penalised or locked up for their failure to send a child to school. Education may not have the same connotation for everyone, but as per Article 25-A of the Constitution, it is mandatory for the government to ensure free and compulsory education for all children. School-going children are less susceptible to falling into hands of different mafias that are in the business of exploitation of children, especially boys, from a certain income-bracket. Beggary, prostitution, bonded labour, trafficking and slavery exist, and out-of-school children become the easiest prey.

Sexual abuse exists on all levels in all societies all over the world. While it is important to inculcate a sense of security in children, empowering them to voice their thoughts and fears, it is also important to remain attentive to the changes in the temperament of a child. Sexual exploitation engenders a state of fear in the victims, silencing them which leads to internalising of their grief. It is imperative to create a responsive environment, encouraging an ethos of talking and sharing.

Sexual abuse is not a taboo, but a crime, and like any other crime it must be reported, investigated and punished. That is the least that the collective conscience of a society and a nation owes to a victim, whose physical, mental and emotional trauma will remain unforgettable, and in some cases, irreparable.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th,  2015.

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Toticalling | 8 years ago | Reply It is true sexual abuse must be treated like a crime and reported to authorities and culprits punished without mercy.Such crimes exist everywhere in the world. The main difference is that women abused in Pakistan, do not come forward that often as that decreases their chance of being accepted as a 'normal' citizen. People look down upon them although it was not their fault but conservative mindset of men refuse to marry her. Reporting the abuse does not help her at all. What needs to change is the mindset. In west many are coming forward to report even their fathers and uncles who abused them when they were children. That is the way to go. But we are far from that path of distinguishing between right and equal rights for women.
hammurabi | 8 years ago | Reply child abuse is common in societies which impose restrictions on freedom of women.
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