By Mahmood Sadiq
The brutal rape and murder of an eight year old girl in Kasur is a tragedy of its own kind. While tragedies are often rated based on the number of casualties, sometimes the death of a single human can cause more grief and outrage than a calamity that killed hundreds. Thus the nature of a tragedy takes precedence over numbers. This is what has happened in the case of Zainab’s murder.
The reaction to the incident on social, print and electronic media has been strong. The Apex court has also taken suo motu notice of the incident. Politicians and celebrities have taken to Twitter to lodge their protest, calling the incident shocking, intolerable, inhumane and have demanded exemplary punishment for the culprit. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited the home of the grieving family under cover of night and the district police chief has been transferred. A joint investigation team has been constituted; however, nobody has taken responsibility for not being able to stop the crime yet. Nobody has apologised to Zainab’s family for not being able to protect her. The civil administration and police should have, at least owned up to their failure.
Now we await some incident which will inevitably divert the nation’s attention. Meanwhile, Munira Begum’s six year old daughter who was sexually assaulted in Rawalpindi last year is still awaiting justice. Will Zainab also turn into another statistic?
More than 10,726 cases of child abuse or harassment were reported from around the country between 2007 and 2011, while 9855 cases were reported from 2012 to 2017. Over 70 percent of these incidents took place in Punjab. The yearly average of the last 10 years stands at over 2000. It comes to six cases per day. What other ground realities are needed by our politicians, legislators, administrators or even the Apex court to take action and protect our children? These figures stand presented in our parliament also. Who is accountable and who should accept the responsibility? If ten incidents of minors’ rape and murders had been reported in Kasur and eleven in Sheikhupura alone in 2017 then it is obvious that someone is not doing their job. Mian Shahbaz Sharif who has ruled the province for the last 10 years needs to accept that his government has failed to protect the Punjabi people’s children. We have over 22,000 registered madaris in Pakistan, where two million children are enrolled at any given point in time. Children joining madaris are mostly of Zainab’s age or even younger and the number in this category runs in thousands statistically. The reality is that these children are from the most underprivileged backgrounds. Another painful reality is that sexual abuse in madaris is quite prevalent in Pakistan. Hundreds of cases have been reported in the past. Social norms and cultural narratives play an active role in several sections of our society in subduing any discourse on such issues. The humiliation and taboo attached to it forces the families and the affected to surrender their lives in the name of honour, and suffer in silence.
The religious right has grown stronger in Pakistan. Clerics in today’s Pakistan have risen in stature. In a societal culture where clerics are powerful and sexual abuse is prevalent but is a taboo subject, it is seldom discussed or even acknowledged in public. With such realities, we are even hesitant to give sex education to our children. They have the right to know from their age of vulnerability. Factors which decide this age threshold vary as per the local environment of the family, area and status. Parents, family, teachers and the government have to play their role. We need to change our social attitudes as per dictates of environments and ground realities. Changing Facebook DPs won’t change realities. No society has been able to prevent the reoccurrence of such crimes in totality. What all must be done to minimise such tragic happenings is the core issue. Parliament must go beyond passing the ‘bills for protection of children’. There is a need for change in laws and mechanism for handling such crimes, punishment and other related aspects with their support structure and mechanism. Parliament should identify the legislative loops and reinforcement laws to facilitate the establishment of such a mechanism. The implementation must be time barred and financially supported. Parliament must take responsibility for Zainab’s tragic fate.
(The writer is a PhD scholar with diverse experience and international exposure. He possesses conscious knowledge about phenomenon of terrorism and extremism coupled with realistic understanding of geo political, social and security environment.)