I, like the rest of Pakistan woke up yesterday to the horrific news of the rape and murder of 7 year old Zainab in Kasur.
My first reaction after seeing the gut wrenching images that accompanied the hashtag #JusticeForZainab was to take refuge in denial. For a moment there it seemed quite plausible that the specter of Zainab’s smiling face would vanish on its own if I shut out all forms of news and information.
However, my efforts at escapism proved entirely useless. 7 year old Zainab was all I could think about despite my best efforts to pretend otherwise.
As the day progressed, this shock induced denial made way for anger and an acute sense of helplessness. The child was gone and there was nothing anyone could do to bring her back. The perpetrator was still at large and 7 year old Zainab was not his first victim. There had been at least 5 other children who had been raped and murdered by the same monster in Kasur since 2015.
Also Read: Veiling Murder in the Name of Honour
But condemning the rapist was not enough. The pedophile was just one person and for one person to have the power to shake an entire nation is a very scary thought.
The Need to Assign Guilt
When a tragedy so heinous befalls, it robs a community of its sense of security. Suddenly, 7 year old Zainab became every child in every household, forcing every parent to think the same dreadful thought: this could have been my child.
And because none of us wanted to believe that such a travesty could befall us, we all desperately needed someone other than just the rapist to blame – for declaring others guilty helped to restore at least a tiny fraction of our lost sense of security.
By evening half of Pakistan was blaming the parents and the other half was hurling abuses at the government and civil administration. In both the cases this rage – although quite understandable – was entirely misguided.
No matter how much we want to convince ourselves that Zainab would still be alive and healthy had her parents not left her in the care of relatives to perform umrah, truth be told there is no real substance in this argument.
In 2016 alone, 2410 girls and 1729 boys under the age of 18 years were sexually exploited in Pakistan – at least 100 of them were murdered after being molested. The extremely disturbing point that I’m trying to make here is that your and my children are just as much at risk of sexual abuse and rape as any other child in any other part of the country and neither denial nor a misplaced sense of rage will protect them.
As far as the civil administration and the government machinery goes, yes there are a hundred and one lacunae that need to be addressed. From the civil administration’s indifference to the Kasur child pornography scandal of 2015 to its inability to understand the urgency of the situation knowing very well that a serial child rapist was at large, there is a series of hard questions that the government needs to answer.
That said, cursing the government and tweeting venom will serve no purpose at all.
Demand Specific Child Protection Measures
If we truly want to protect our children, we will have to put our agony and anger aside and instead focus our energy to demand specific actions that are likely to have a long lasting impact on the protection of our children.
Life Skills Based Education
For far too long, life skills education – which equips children with the necessary information to understand and protect themselves against sexual violence has been denied in our schools. The ghairat brigade fears that it would corrupt young minds and destroy their innocence.
I say, we demand that an education on critical reproductive health issues, on good and bad touch and on shunning sexual advances should be made part of the curriculum in schools. We can either give our children the information that they can use to protect themselves when in peril or allow them to be raped and murdered in our attempt to “protect their innocence.”
Implementation of Existing Laws
There is then the matter of implementation of laws. Articles 292A, 292B, 292C and 293 of the Pakistan Penal Code very clearly articulate sexual violence against children as punishable offenses. However, as we have seen in the Kasur child pornography case in 2015, there is virtually no implementation of these otherwise wonderfully crafted laws.
Instead of wasting your words on random curses, please specifically demand from the lawmakers to ensure the implementation of laws that exist for the protection of our children. Unless, child pornographers and rapists are awarded strict punishments, no amount of emotional clamor will make our children any safer than little Zainab was when she was violated and murdered.
Acknowledging the Culprit Within
Finally, none of this would be possible unless we, as a nation do not come out of our collective denial regarding the existence of child sexual abuse. If we continue to treat it as someone else’s problem; as an uncomfortable subject that is too shameful to discuss or one that hurts our ghairat then we should also stop demanding justice for Zainab.
If we truly want justice to be served, we will have to reconcile with the hard fact that it is neither Zainab’s parents who are to be blamed nor (solely) the civil administration. It is our collective indifference that has allowed child sexual abuse to flourish and a change will only be possible if we venture beyond our useless narratives of shame and honour to make Pakistan safer for our children.