On Tuesday 3rd July this newspaper reported the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl in Faisalabad. The report ran to 150 words of which 111 were devoted to the killing. Local people raised a hue and cry and demanded that the Chief Justice take notice. The culprits are as yet not caught. I could find no reports of the incident in other English-language newspapers. The same report referenced a sexual assault by two men on another child, a boy, also in Faisalabad. When the rape and murder of a child warrants nothing more than a footnote in the press then something is seriously wrong somewhere.
The kidnap, rape and murder of Zainab whose body was dumped on a rubbish heap by her killer has quickly faded from public memory, exactly as was predicted in these columns in the immediate aftermath. There was much hue and cry as well in the wake of the Kasur sexual abuse incidents, where multiple children were abused and filmed by both themselves and their abusers. The phone-clips were circulated, and there are now several anecdotal but credible reports of poor families going into the production of clips of child sexual abuse. The ubiquity of the smartphone, even in the poorest of families, makes such production almost childishly simple. There is a ready market for the product that is disseminated via cheap memory sticks and this closely mirrors experiences in the Phillippines where entire neighbourhoods have turned to the production of child pornography, some of it ‘on demand’. Customers call a number, there is a money transfer, and a child is abused for the purchaser. I can find no reports of this happening in Pakistan but it is probably only a matter of time.
Short of a blanket ban on the internet no nation on earth has successfully prevented the viewing of pornography over the internet, and the proliferation of smart devices has merely expanded the market. In Pakistan the government blocks tens of thousands of sites and does so effectively — but its efforts are negated by the use of Virtual Private Networks — VPNs — that mask the user in such a way as to render them invisible in their ‘home location’ and places them in another country entirely with a spoof identity. They are free to download and 100% effective.
In a society such as ours where women are seen by many men as ‘objects’ to be owned and used, access to pornography is a powerful negative reinforcement. Women in pornography are portrayed as compliant, cooperative, willing to accept multiple sexual partners indeed encouraging such activity, and equally willing to endure and accept, with apparent enjoyment, all manner of abuse. Transfer those perceptions to the minds of males that are already deeply patriarchal and another layer of possession and exploitation is added to their perception of women and young girls, with the false perception that women in general are happy to submit to whatever a man might want to do to her, and that in company of his friends should he so wish.
Given the almost complete absence of what is usually and erroneously described as ‘sex education’ in schools both public and private nationally, there is no opportunity to countervail the prevailing narrative, and gender segregation does nothing to help either sex in terms of learning how to interact in a normative manner. It is a recipe for disaster, and what may be termed ‘unnatural desires’, principally on the part of men. I am sure that some, possibly many, of those reading this comment will find it offensive, about which I care not a whit. You don’t make omelettes without breaking eggs.
To be scrupulously fair this is not a problem confined to Pakistan. It is present in varying degrees in many states globally though with wide variations in severity. Societies that tend towards the secular and more highly developed also tend towards lower rates of abuse of children though it does still happen. The difference is that there are agencies that are there to catch both the casualties and the offenders. Sadly the future is bleak in this respect for Pakistan, and the rape and murder of children is always going to be a footnote.