For the last 24 hours television channels, newspapers and social media websites are all abuzz with the arrest of the man who allegedly raped and murdered 7 year old Zainab. This development has injected a sense of calm in an enraged nation.
There is no denying that if proven guilty in the court, such swift action is a step taken in the right direction by the civil administration and law enforcement agencies. However, in the congratulatory clamour one must not forget that this is only the first step.
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According to Sahil’s annual Cruel Numbers report, in 2016 the reported cases of child sexual abuse in Pakistan stood at a staggering 4,139. This unholy figure means that at least 11 children are sexually violated in Pakistan every day! What further adds to the anxiety of any person with the slightest hint of an active conscious is the fact that 2016 saw a 10% increase in the reported cases of child sexual abuse compared to the previous year, i.e. 2015.
This clearly indicates that we as a nation are failing miserably to protect our children and their well-being.
7 year old Zainab would have become one of the thousands of child sexual abuse statistics had it not been for the unprecedented attention that her case attracted. It took 7 victims and a nation shaken to its core for the administration and politicians to finally come into action and find Imran Ali, the alleged rapist and murderer.
It was only because of mass public pressure that the government put its best foot forward and identified the culprit in merely 14 days. Had the same level of inclination been shown when the first child was found raped and murdered (almost two years ago), Zainab would still be alive and safe.
My concern here is that once the outrage subsides, our children will once again be forgotten. The Cruel Numbers report will once again highlight the gravity of the child sexual abuse situation that Pakistan currently faces and our rulers will once again ignore its dire warnings; waiting for another public outrage for another raped and murdered child before they decide to venture beyond their collective indifference only for the cycle to repeat itself again.
In the wake of the Zainab murder case, there are loud cries coming from all quarters to publicly hang the culprit. While I can understand the sentiment fueled by immense anger, I cannot imagine how such an act will protect our children from becoming victims of sexual crimes?
The fact of the matter is that Pakistan needs to educate its children against sexual violence and equip them with the necessary information and life skills to identify peril. Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRHR) education in schools, under the supervision of teachers is absolutely imperative to put an end to the cruel numbers that keep surging every year.
On the administrative front, the law enforcement agencies need to be better trained and sensitized to deal with cases of child sexual abuse. Psycho-social counselors to communicate with the survivors of sexual violence and their families as well as police officials who are well-trained to examine the crime scene scientifically are an absolute necessity if we are even slightly serious about addressing the horrific situation of child sexual abuse in our country. It goes without saying that state-of-the-art forensic facilities must accompany all efforts to fight sexual violence against our children.
In this day and age, it is entirely unacceptable for any province to not have trained officials and scientists when investigating a crime scene. To think that no province other than Punjab has shown seriousness to embed forensic science as part of its regular investigation process is in every sense of the word criminal!
So, while the murderer of 7 year old has been caught, we must realize that there are hundreds of Imrans still at large and no amount of public hangings will protect our children. Informed children and communities coupled with a sensitive and scientifically equipped police force is our best bet.
The million dollar question is: do we truly care enough about the safety of our children to take these steps – including comprehensive SRHR education – that can actually protect them from the Imrans of this world?