You might have heard about the 12-year-old Hindu girl Jamna Saami reportedly gang-raped on the third day of Eid in Tando Muhammad Khan, Sindh.
You can see pictures of the poor girl splattered all over social media along with the hashtag “Justice for Jamna”. This is done in an attempt to use social pressures to find justice in the situation. And it worked.
This is all too familiar for us though. It was just the other day that the hashtag “Justice for Farishta” was trending. And before that, “Justice for Urooj”. Why has this become so common? When did child sexual abuse get so bad in Pakistan?
The sad truth is the sexual abuse in Pakistan has gone unchecked for far too long. The rape and murder of the 7 year old Zainab sent shockwaves through the community. The resident of Kasur, which has been reported as a hotbed of sexual abuse, had enough and broke into mass protests. The culprit was eventually caught, but the case finally started to end the culture of silence that our society has created. According to reports, 3,832 cases of child abuse were reported in 2018, which was an 11% increase from the previous year.
With so many cases reported, you’d think you wouldn’t need social media. Unfortunately, our police force has shown it’s incompetent side while dealing with child abuse cases. During the Farishta case, it was reported that it took FIVE DAYS for an FIR to be registered, only after a viral video that created societal pressure. Even in the Eid case, it was only after the hashtag that the culprits were brought to justice.
When talking about child sexual abuse, we need to look at the society it is in and why it has been allowed to exist for so long. We have talked about the culture of silence that has plagued this country, but we also have to talk about the culture of acceptance that sexualizes girls from a young age.
Earlier this year, a photo of a 40 year old man marrying a 10 year old girl went viral over social media, leading to an arrest.
Then, the Senate passed the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2018 which proposes that the legal minimum age of marriage in the country be set at 18. However, when moved to the National Assembly, the amendment was met with swift opposition.
Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan strongly opposed the bill and termed it un-Islamic. He said they would not let any anti-Islam bill passed from the house. He declared that he would oppose the bill even at the cost of his cabinet position, adding that even the whole house could not pass any legislation which was against the teachings of Quran and Sunnah. Unfortunately, this type of mindset exists not just in the religious front, but in most of the other parties. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was the only party whose members voted in support of the bill in unison.
The strong opposition of this bill shows the underlying problem of why sexual abuse exists; we as a society sexualize our young girls. Whether it’s in the name of religion or culture, part of society furthers the idea that young girls can be sexualized, and as a result, are prone to sexual abuse.
After the Zainab case, Kasur was hit with another scandal that shocked everyone. A child pornography ring was discovered after protesters took to the streets. The demonstrators were protesting against the police for allegedly failing to arrest members of a gang suspected of raping hundreds of children, filming them and blackmailing their parents. Most of the 280 children were below 14 years of age and were residents of Husain Khanwala village, near Kasur. A local gang began filming sexual exploits with the children in 2006, which allegedly continued until two years ago. The victims were forced to have sex, and the videos were then circulated for Rs.50.
During the investigation, it was discovered that PML(N) MPA Malik Ahmed Saeed was backing the criminals involved, as it was reported he was pressuring victims to recant their claims. He has denied this.
When Asifa Bano, an 8 year old girl, was raped in Rasana village near Kathua in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018, the top trending search in Pakistan on porn sites was Asifa.
These situations show us that there is a problem in the way our society views our young girls, whether it is physical or virtual, and how many people may be part of the problem.
We need to start holding people accountable for their actions. Strengthening your police force with the proper training to be able to handle such cases, and proper punishments for when they don’t. During the Farishta case, the policemen in charge were arrested for their incompetence. Furthermore, we need to start challenging society’s use of religion and culture to justify pedophilia. We as a society need to have a more honest discussion about what has been hiding under the surface for so long.