They say children are the future of the world. But what if that future is forever ‘changed’? Habib University situated in Karachi, Pakistan held their first session of their Teach-In Series of 2015 on 12th September. The session was titled, ‘The Open Secret: Child Sexual Abuse in Pakistan’. The session, in my opinion, broke the social stigma surrounding child abuse in Pakistani society. It comes in the wake of the Kasur scandal in Punjab. We are not encouraged to talk about certain topics or on issues, as sensitive as the threat of ISIS today. Instead, we are told to be quiet because such topics are ‘untouchable’. What happens if the child, who grew up in front of your eyes, was abused by someone close to him/her? In my opinion, it is easier to point fingers towards others because it is convenient. BUT, it is far easier to overlook the abuse of your children at the hands of your close relations, such as fathers, brothers or uncles etc.
The session was moderated by Asif Aslam – Associate Professor at Habib University. Before her introduces the esteemed group of panellists, the audience were shown a video titled, “Pakistan’s Hidden Shame’. The documentary was not only thought provoking, it was gut wrenching and soul crushing to its core. It did not sensationalise child abuse like Pakistan’s media after the Kasur incident; it was raw and brutally honest in its context and content. It showcased child rape in many bus stops in Peshawar and how street children are found for bus drivers for one night only, so that these drivers may take sexual advantage of these innocent individuals. I personally had tears trickling down my hot face after pondering at the extent of child abuse in Pakistan and the neglect of Pakistan’s government and its citizens; no one is willing to question or eradicate the problem and choose to suitably ignore it.
The panellists were Dr. Murad Moosa Khan who is the Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Aga Khan University, Karachi; Dr. Aisha Mehnaz, Professor of Pediatrics at Dow University of Health Sciences who also chairs the Konpal Child Abuse Prevention Society in Karachi; Dr. Ayesha Mian, Chairperson and Associate Professor and Consultant Child Psychiatrist at the Department of Psychiatry in Aga Khan University, Karachi; Mr. Asad Butt, Vice-Chair, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and from Sindh Governement, Mahmud Rehman. Dr. Khan, felt that as a psychiatrist [and a person], we should not discuss this in isolation but rather as a part of the socially unaddressed problems and he stressed the need to contextualise it. However, we should also address the abuse within the safety of our homes, was the issue raised by Professor Mian, who believes that in most child abuse cases, family members are responsible for the heinous crime. She stated that those who are abused as children turn out to be the abusers. Mian also felt that there will be considerable mistrust of children for their family members if they are abused by them.
Furthermore, Dr. Mehnaz, shared her personal experience in the matter. She had written to Dawn some years back on the topic of child sexual abuse. The newspaper had chosen not to publish it due to the word, sexual or the S word. It is true that media outlets prefer to sensationalise a sensitive issue and not raise any awareness regarding it. We, as Pakistanis are fond of forgetting and we will forget Kasur and term it as a fairy tale or a myth. Mehnaz also directed the attention of the audience in attending, to the economical angle of child abuse. She recognized – and I am sure most of you will acknowledge this – that even if there is child abuse at home, the mothers will stay quiet because who else will provide for her and her children. One is of the opinion that if there was child abuse happening in Kasur, the parents would have known this because they would have been given money in exchange.
Nevertheless, Mehnaz also pointed out towards the International stakeholders in the scandal. There would be many interested in child pornography and the perpetrators would have been given a large capital for the tapes. She also directed our attention towards the Child Protection Authority, which was instigated by the Government of Pakistan 3 years back but is yet to be implemented. This is a serious problem, that why is the government reluctant in eradicating Pakistan off its ‘hidden shame’. I was disheartened to see that Mr. Rehman, who was the government’s representative, did not give any promising answers nor did he seem interested in addressing the issue. This is discouraging for people who feel that the government will not implement any law that would help Pakistan become a safe country and a better nation. Furthermore, what was even more damning was the reason Dr. Murad gave, which showcased the increase of sexual abuse in children in Pakistan. He suggested that we, as a Pakistani society are functioning on the Id level. The Id in psychoanalysis is defined as the sexual impulse or sexual gratification that makes it difficult to control our actions regardless of the consequences later. This was a critical evaluation of how de-sensitized the Pakistani society had become. The so-called, Islamic society.
I feel that since we live in the age of science and technology, we should be appreciative of the tools given to us. The social media. This enables us to be more vocal and try to raise awareness on the hidden issue that should not and should never be hidden. We shouldn’t say that ‘log kia kahain gain? Or ‘hamari naak kut jaye gi. I was very happy to see that most of the audience was comprised of adolescent individuals. However, many of them asked the about how as we as a Pakistani society needs to change our mindsets and talk on the issue more openly; since we tend to bring in the cultural respect and religious honour to it. It is an issue that is always talked about but the big elephant in the room which needed to be answered was left in a corner.
Throughout the session, everyone talked of the abusers being chiefly male. BUT, what of the women who are also perpetrators. It is satisfactory to be able to aim that sexual abuse is being done by men but we fail to tackle the women who sexually abuse young boys and girls alike. Being a woman, I will not shy away from pointing towards women who exploit children. Being a woman, I feel that it is equally important to address sexual abuse by women rather than signalling out men alone. I feel that we should implement social services and imprison these sexual abusers for life. If we don’t, then are our children safe anywhere? Where is home for these children? Where is that happy place they go to? The ‘warm touch’ of an outsider? Or to the ‘safety’ of their relatives?