Stakeholders Must Unite for Pakistan’s Future

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Khalil Ahmed Dogar

December will remain etched forever in the memory of young Pakistanis as a dark month when 133 children lost their lives in a heinous attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, on December 16, 2014. Eight years since then, Pakistani children are still not safe. This threat, although of a different kind, has similar repercussions over generations. Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is the most prevailing form of violence against children.
The nationwide outrage on the brutal rape-murder of young Zainab Ansari in 2018 had one single demand i.e. no more. People from all walks of life asked for swift justice and a surety that such crimes would never occur. The state machinery came into action and the perpetrator was sentenced to death in the same year. Several policy-related decisions and new legislation were made. However, fast forward four years, and more and more cases of child sexual abuse keep occurring, which shows that Pakistan is a long shot away from being a safe country for children.
The report “Cruel Numbers 2021” published by a non-profit organization, SAHIL, after monitoring data from 84 national and regional newspapers concluded that over 10 child abuse cases were reported every day. The number rose to 12 reported cases per day for the first half of 2022, but it should be noticed that these are the number of cases reported in media. The actual number can be higher because child sexual abuse is among the least reported crime in the country due to traditional practices, weak implementation of laws and strong feudalism and tribalism.
The report by SAHIL once again statistically busted the myth that perpetrators of child sexual abuse are unknown people. In more than half of the cases, the perpetrators were family members, friends, babysitters, neighbours, drivers, shopkeepers and teachers at formal institutions and religious schools. Over 28 per cent of cases happening in the victims’ houses shows that children aren’t fully safe even at their homes. Generally, it’s perceived that child sexual abuse takes place in rural settings against teenage girls because of vicious traditional practices. However, the rise in these categories shows that children of all ages and genders are suffering from this brutality.
Removing these assumptions regarding child sexual abuse is the first step in order to protect our children. It is also important to understand the short term and long-term, physical and psychological effects on children. These include physical injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, fertility problems, forced and early pregnancies, and rape murders. The survivors face mental health issues such as depression, poor self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and eating disorders.
Pakistan’s legal system also comes under fire for failing to eliminate child sexual abuse. Complaint lodging, Safety of the Survivor, Forensic Testing and Medical Exams, and Court Proceedings, all need to be upgraded. Child Sexual Abuse cases can’t be dragged but they can’t be settled improperly to appeal to the masses. The state also needs to improve its support system for survivors including shelter, and legal and psycho-social support.
Awareness-raising programs are often critiqued for being ineffective but much, more is required. There’s a need to eliminate the gender-sensitive dictionary of terms in national and regional languages to include correct scientific/technical words for crimes and change the derogatory terminologies used commonly. There’s also a need to sensitise media on improved and child-friendly reporting to protect the survivors and their families from trauma. All stakeholders need to realise that role of technology in such crimes can’t be undermined. Pakistan is among the top watchers of pornography and most of it is easily accessible through mobile and the internet.
The biggest step we can take is just to listen to our children. Keeping anyone is safer if the communication process is two-way and comfortable. Child participation is the biggest tool parents and teachers have to fight against child sexual abuse and other issues which are often escalated by the generation gap. The bridges must also be repaired by other stakeholders. From homes to schools to government departments, we need to work together to provide a safe and healthy environment for our children in order to secure Pakistan’s future.