By: Tahreem Niazi
“It is not the the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.” (Aisha Mirza).
Zainab, a girl in Kasur, Punjab was kidnapped, brutally raped, and murdered. Her body was found left in a garbage pit just 100 meters from her house. She was discovered a few days later in her black and white striped slacks and red dress. Her hands clenched into a tight fist to fight her attacker. Her struggle etched on her body. She was only seven years old.
Zainab’s murder and rape has sparked an outpouring rage and grief all over Pakistan. Many protesters took over the streets to stand for justice in the major cities while more than half a million social media users have rallied on all types of social media with the hashtag #JusticeForZainab. Everybody is demanding for authorities to take action and to openly discuss the problem of child sexual abuse and murder. And the hashtag wasnt only used for Zainab. The hashtag has also been used by many political activists to ridicule the perceived failings of the local authorities, given the series of abductions, sexual assaults and killings in the area, which have included 12 similar murders in the past two years. But these children are not the only ones who went through this.
According to the Islamabad-based nongovernmental organization Sahil, an average of 11 cases of child sexual abuse are reported daily across Pakistan. Zainab was among the dozen children to be murdered in Kasur district in Punjab province in the past year. In the first six months of 2017 alone, numbers released by Sahil show a total of 1,764 cases of child abuse were reported from across the country.
After every incident of sexual abuse, the debate now focuses on the Pakistani government inefficiency to act against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. What is missing from the discussion of child protection in Pakistan?
Zainab’s murder is a story more dark and evil than a few rotten eggs in society. Call it patriarchy. It is the men growing up in toxic shadow of masculinity that only get a mental thrill only when women are subdued or suppressed. Pakistan is the country where there is war about a girl-child. Men in families or outside conduct it, teachers conduct it, or even their own mothers conduct it to keep the girls away from patriarchy, not sending them outside, not educating them. Then what happened to Zainab , the society blames the parents or the child itself. Wrong. The problem is with the state.
In Pakistan, Patriarchy is undefeatable. It takes on, forcefully. It is naturally oppressive. It demands girls and women to hide and when they become weak, they become fair game. There is no urgency to fight for the rights of children especially girls. Since girls don’t pose a threat, they come last in politics. And Violence against women in Pakistan is almost a given. You are a woman, you will be violated. According to Thomson Reuters Foundation, 9 out of 10 women experience or will experience violence in their lifetimes. A shocking reality that only very few women can escape.
Rape, especially child rape is a power game in Pakistan. They way the police or the government investigate it is misrepresentation at its highest level. The Council of Islamic Ideology of Pakistan does not allow DNA samples to be taken after the abuse is committed. Not only this, overall, the way that rape is dealt with in the country (the attitude) is shocking and horrendous.
The culture of shame that surrounds rape shows us how little we understanding about violations and how the society has no shame in blaming the victim and sometimes go to extreme points where they even validate the prepertator as a man control.
The society that seems to applaud its values, has a dead and lopsided attitude towards consent. A woman does not have the right to reject sexual advance. A common example from Pakistan is that when woman reject suitors, they are stalked or sometimes killed. Acid-burning stories are so common. Because of these kind of events, a woman cannot be physically and emotionally mature enough, or have financial power to walk away from an advance. This attitude highlights the youth’s inability to turn a powerful man down.
The state needs to realize that the culture in Pakistan cultivates such corrupt ethos regarding abuse that there is something definitely wrong about its gender roles. They need to know that sermonizing the honor culture does not lead to a healthy expression of sexual norms. The nation’s girls suffer from uncountable curses due to these very reasons.
Although Zainab’s case has caused an uproar in Pakistan, as her funeral was filled with tears, but this outrage is not enough. The state needs to come up with solutions. An Islamabad-based psychologist and rights activist, Maria Rashid, says there is “no one solution to the issue of child sexual abuse”.
It starts with the implementation of laws. It involves resource allocation, sensitization, and training of law enforcement agencies, health and legal officials, as well child protection information for schools, parents and , children themselves. The parents need to be educated regarding the threat of sexual abuse in order for them to tell their kids. They also need to be told about the levels of danger their child or children are in or will be if they do not teach them about it. Sexual abuse is a silent threat to the society. It comes without warning. Before it happens, children need to be told and warned. Schools need to have counselling lessons. After parents, it is the school’s responsibility to teach the kids. Since kids spend most of their time in school, they need to take advantage of the learning environment.
Another thing that should be focused on the allowance of DNA testing. If a case of sexual abuse comes, DNA testing should be allowed in order to catch perpetrator. Without DNA testing, it will be almost impossible is catching the perpetrator, and since there are not places where CCTV footage is not available, cases are usually dependent on DNA testing.
The sad thing is, that if the problem is not discussed in detail, all the solutions listed above could not be implemented. After initial media hype and response to rape and child abuse cases, people forget about them. There is no long-term addressall of the issue and it is treated more as an abnormality rather than a widespread problem that needs to be tackled at various levels and through sustained effort.