In 2015, the village Hussain Khan Wala in district Kasur, Punjab, Pakistan came under massive public scrutiny after reports of large-scale child sexual abuse became headline news.
The existence of several hundred video clips that showed instances of sexual abuse involving almost 300 children sent a wave of shock, anger and grief through Pakistan, and a government investigation was initiated. Hundreds of video clips showed that sexual abuse and videotaping of sexual abuse of children, male and female, continued from 2006 to 2014. Not only were the videos sold in the local markets they were also used to extract money from poor families that did whatever they could to keep the "shame" of what had happened to their children under wraps.
Many arrests and some penalisations later the case is still there in its harrowing aftermath. Many young victims, in need of psychological rehabilitation, grappling with their issues of self-confidence and vulnerability, wait for justice. The wait may never end.
People light candles and earthen lamps to condemn the rape and murder of 7-year-old girl Zainab Amin in Kasur. Credit: Reuters
Between 2014 and 2017, Kasur a city 31 miles from Lahore, has reported more than 720 cases of sexual abuse and violence towards children. According to Sahil, an organisation working for prevention of crimes against children, "... In 2017, a total of 129 cases of child assault were reported from Kasur alone. Of them, 34 were abductions, 23 rapes, 19 sodomy, 17 attempted rapes, six abduction and rapes, and four abduction and gang-rapes."
Approximately, 11 cases of child abuse are reported daily in Pakistan. Many remain unreported.
In early 2017, there were 10 murders of minors aged five to 10 (all of them were raped and killed) in Kasur. All killings took place within a radius of 10 kilometres.
By the end of 2017, the number of girls raped rose to 11. Only one of them is alive.
On January 9, 2018, in Kasur, a corpse was found on a pile of garbage. It was the mutilated body of a girl who had been reported missing on January 5. Her medical examination revealed that the cause of death was strangulation. The post-mortem report also showed the following: “Visible marks of torture on the child’s face, congestion in her muscles, her tongue was badly bruised and injured as it was pressed between her teeth. The hyoid bone was fractured...that she might have been sexually assaulted; there was also evidence to suggest the child had been sodomised. There was mud, fecal matter and blood found on her body.” The initial report also confirmed that she might have been dead for two to four days before her body was dumped in trash, on a crowded street.
Her name was Zainab Amin. She was seven years old.
From social media to electronic media to international media, the news of her rape and murder spread across Pakistan, and led to an unprecedented eruption of shock, grief and, understandably, rage. After the Army Public School massacre of children in December 2014, this is probably the first time I've seen such a united show of emotion to an event that is unimaginable in its horror. Political leaders, top military officials, artistes, sportspersons, activists, journalists, students, celebrities, the privileged and the underprivileged, the sentiments are identical: justice must be done to Zainab.
Pakistan TV news anchor Kiran Naz did a live telecast with her young daughter sitting in her lap to highlight what she felt as a mother in the aftermath of the rape and murder of Zainab Amin.
A thorough, exhaustive investigation based on forensic testing of evidence and crime scenes, witness-questioning, and formation of airtight cases will reveal: what is happening in Kasur; what is behind rampant crimes against children; whether these cases are products of depravity of the worst kind, or there is a gang behind abduction, rape and killing of children; is this the work of a serial rapist and murderer; whether the perpetrators are working alone, or there is a link between them and the perpetrators of the 2015 sexual abuse videos; whether the 12 girls were victims of individual sexual depravity or dehumainsed tools of a sex racket involved in raping and killing children and video-taping the events in order to sell the videos in international underbellies of grisly sexual voyeurism and perversion.
As I write these lines, my mind keeps going to the image of the lifeless body of Zainab. What she must have gone through during her torture, rape and murder. The pain the other 11 victims suffered. The molestation hundreds of children suffer in Pakistan, and throughout the world. The abuse of those whose tragedy reach us. The rape of those who suffer and die without anyone knowing what happened to them. Abuse, molestation, rape. By family members, relatives, strangers. To me nothing is worse than the pain of a child. To me, nothing is a bigger tragedy than burying a child.
As the mother of a son almost 18, my priority was giving him all the love in the world and that included raising him without any physical or mental punishment, and keeping him so secure in his environment that he feels confident and safe wherever he is, with or without me, even today.
My son is a happy and kind person because of the life he has had. Most parents all over the world try to do exactly the same - keep their children safe from disease, hunger, cold, night-time monsters, daily obstacles, little fears, outside horrors. Not all of us succeed. We fail our children. Repeatedly. Individually. Collectively.
Abduction, torture, rape and murder of a child translate into humanity stooping to its lowest. It is the worst of crimes, and it is the worst of a society. It is a wake-up call to the apathetic soul of a nation.
Abduction of a child is a huge deal anywhere in the world, with the best resources of a country's LEAs leaping into action to find the child. A missing child in Pakistan has become just another crime.
The world should be a safe place for children within and without their homes. Period. The emphasis should be on providing them a better life, but the safety of children should be a given. Why do we live in a world where we have to fight for the safety of children? Children, notwithstanding where they are, what they are doing, whoever they are with, chaperoned or alone, living in a mansion or sleeping on a sidewalk, studying at an elite school or working to earn a paltry wage, fair-skinned or dark, nicely dressed or in rags, must be safe. Whatever else is wrong with the world, children must be allowed to remain children: carefree, joyous, secure.But the world is the way it is, and before mindsets and attitudes alter at the very fundamental level, there are guidelines that must be followed. There must be laws that act as deterrents, immediate community and police attention to the disappearance of a child, thorough investigation to find the kidnapped child, and solving the case in the case of a murder, proper penalisation and sentencing, formation of a database to list all convicted and even alleged sexual criminals. Also needed are trauma centres with professional counsellors for survivor-rehabilitation.
Sex education must be mandatory in schools at the elementary level starting from parental advice at home. The distinction between good and bad touch, how not to interact with strangers when un-chaperoned, talking to parents if improperly touched by someone they know or a stranger, counselling when needed are all needed. Teach children that there is no shame in talking about an uncomfortable grope, or worse, abuse. Shame is only for perpetrators, not their victims, the survivors.
Media must be active in dispensation of information about awareness and prevention of child abuse. Safety of children is a collective responsibility, a chain of action and reaction: familial, communal, societal, and governmental. Being united, the formation of a safe world for children is a reality not a utopian concept. Act now.
Fundamentally, it is all about what you teach your children. It is about how patriarchal narratives are shaped to provide love and self-confidence to children instead of forcing females and children into submission. It is about teaching your children gender equality without ever using the words gender equality. It is about teaching your sons what not to do, not bending girls to learn how to be. It is about accepting the importance of religious - if you believe in any religion - and societal norms and using them to become better human beings.
It is about teaching your children the importance of empathy, of noticing unkindness, of reacting to an act of violence, even if it's about hitting a sibling. It is about teaching children to be kind to one another, to those who are weaker, to animals, to the underprivileged. It is about teaching children to be responsive. It is about teaching children to be honest about telling you everything, even the unsavoury. It is about parents leading by example.
Kindness is the key. Empathy is a way of life. Pain, of self or others, is a catalyst. Apathy, individual or collective, is abetment. Notice, react, act.
Sexual abuse is violence, lessons in how not to be violent starts at home.
A decent, kind male, notwithstanding a hormonal stimulus or a sexual urge, in any situation, under any circumstances, on any pretext, because of any provocation, would not abuse, assault or rape a child or an adult. It is as simple as that. United with those males, beyond the abuse and the violence, the fight is still winnable if our focus is the same: make this world a beautiful place for our children. Starting now.