“Zainab’s tragic end is a collective failure, from the police to the highest levels of power.”
As the harrowing case of Zainab Ansari continues to grip the country, the endless cycle of abuse of Pakistan’s children continues unabated.
Kasur, where a paedophile ring which victimised over 200 children was discovered in 2015, has been a hub of abuse, but it is far from the only place these crimes have occurred. The High Court asserted that the crime against Zainab could have been prevented had more stringent action been taken against this paedophile gang. Just recently, the parents of eight girls who had been raped and murdered in Kasur appeared before the Supreme Court, pleading for accountability and justice. Thus it is clear that Zainab’s tragic end is a collective failure, from the police to the highest levels of power.
Just recently, a man confessed to killing and attempting to rape his teenage sister in Quetta. This is just one example of the endless cycle of abuse faced by Pakistan’s children across the country, a country where opportunistic predators lurk everywhere in: in the home, in school, on the street and at all levels of society. A culture of denial, shame and hypocrisy has contributed to the perpetuation of abuse.
‘We have depended on inadequate laws for too long, it’s time to take the security of our children into our own hands’ Apart from launching a hard-hitting information campaign in schools and through the media to inform children and parents about sexual predators, centres of systematic child abuse must be investigated and reformed: schools, orphanages, madaris and places of work employing child labour.
A devastating report published in November by Associate Press revealed the true extent of child abuse at madaris, which remains pervasive and unchecked. Writing in The Independent, veteran journalist Kathy Gannon reported last year, “Sexual abuse is a pervasive and longstanding problem at madaris in Pakistan, an AP investigation has found, from the sun baked mud villages deep in its rural areas to the heart of its teeming cities. But in a culture where clerics are powerful and sexual abuse is a taboo subject, it is seldom discussed or even acknowledged in public.”
Largely viewed as a form of welfare where Pakistan’s desperately poor children will get food, a roof over their heads and some form of education, the madrassa system remains completely unregulated. There are an estimated 2 million children attending the 22,000 madaris operating throughout the country.
Abused by the institutions that are purportedly meant to protect Pakistan’s vulnerable children, it falls to civil society and the media to ensure that child safety in madaris remains on the public agenda. Madrassa abuse is just one facet of child exploitation in Pakistan: child prostitution, trafficking and child labour remain unaddressed. With the government struggling to confront child abuse, leading clinical psychologist Zehra Kamal Alam asserts in her blog, ‘We have depended on inadequate laws for too long, it’s time to take the security of our children into our own hands.’
By Mashaal Gauhar