If there is one good thing that came out of the horrors of Kasur, it is that it has encouraged victims in other parts of the country to speak up; the family of a victim in Multan was the first to follow. Sadly, ours is one of those societies in which claiming victimhood for sexual assault unleashes a new set of social costs, the fear of which silences many.
The fact that Kasur families were paying to hide the victimhood of their children, shows that there is a great need for sensitisation of our masses regarding victims of child abuse. This lack of sensitisation probably emanates from the fact that we shy away from discussing paedophilia on more serious forums.
However, it would be wrong to believe that paedophilia is not discussed in Pakistan. When topics are deemed taboo for official forums, they usually become a source of humour on more unofficial ones. While that is understandable in the case of toilet humour, it is tragic to consider that we have the same approach towards child abuse.
It would be very unlikely for anyone reading this to have not received an SMSed joke about a Khan Sahib lusting after a young boy. While the jokes are insensitive and offensive, the more ridiculous part, however, is that for many this understanding is not limited to jokes. A Channel 4 documentary that came out some time back showed the plight of sexually victimised street children in Peshawar. Rather than generating debate on the need to protect these children, the documentary got criticised for its title ‘Pakistan’s hidden shame’, which according to many should have been ‘Peshawar’s Hidden Shame’.
However, as Sahil’s ‘Cruel Numbers’ reports for 2012, 2013, and 2014 show, the provincial incidence of reported sexual assaults on children has been the highest in Punjab. It would be ridiculous to now label all Punjabis as potential paedophiles, because the provincial statistics mirror the population size for each province. Punjab shows the highest incidence because it has the biggest population. This data makes one thing clear – that paedophilia is a problem for all of Pakistan, and not just one province.
In the aftermath of Kasur, weaknesses in policing and judiciary are being quoted as the main reasons behind our failure to stop these incidents. There is no doubt that better policing and quicker punishment for culprits would set effective examples, but these two institutions mostly get involved after the child has gone through the ordeal. Can we say that, with our norms of parenting, we prepare our children well enough on how to react to sexual predators?
The fact is that in most households, sex related topics are avoided and usually the best advice offered to children is to warn them against strangers. However, of the cases reported during 2002 to 2006, 76% of assaults were carried out by individuals who already knew the children. A Sahil report observes that children aged 11 to 15 years are the most vulnerable, because at puberty they are curious about physical and sexual changes in their body. But due to the taboo surrounding these discussions they are likely to seek more willing adults for answers, and those adults might not necessarily mean no harm to the children.
Not only do most of our children lack awareness on how to face paedophiles, they also face castigation if they become victims. One famous TV anchor recently compared the victims of Kasur to the martyred children of APS. He was of the opinion that the children of APS were better off compared to the children of Kasur, since the former are in heaven, while the latter and their families won’t be able to “show their faces” for the rest of their lives.
It is this kind of ignorance that permeates our society. Why exactly should these children not be able to show their faces? Should victims of robberies not show their faces because they should be ashamed that they were robbed? Should murdered individuals be buried secretly as there is shame associated with their murder? Why single out the victims of sexual abuse as those who should face social consequences post victimisation? Is it the victims who should be ashamed or the society that marks them with shame?
An abused child in Raheem Yar Khan recently tried reporting the abuse to the police. But instead of support, he was met with taunts at the Police station. Such was the frustration felt by this child that he committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.
Paedophiles and rapists are not unique to Pakistan. Just like murderers and thieves, they are part of every society. But what distinguishes societies is the way in which they treat victims of paedophilia and rape. In our society, rapists and paedophiles are faced with potential victims who would be too ashamed to point a finger at them. It is this shame that is the paedophile’s biggest advantage.
Our children need to be assured that their acceptance is not dependent upon a lack of victimhood. And the only way to do this is for us to start educating them about their vulnerability as well as the support that they can rely on. Furthermore, we need to take the ‘humour’ out of paedophilia and deal with it with the seriousness it deserves. As a society we need to realise that it was our definition of shame that silenced the abused children of Kasur.