By: Farahnaz Zahidi and Sumaira Khan
KARACHI: The sexual assault of five-year-old “S” who was then dumped outside a Lahore hospital jolted the nation. The story made headlines for several days. In her, each saw their own child. Much was written and promised, but some seven months later the rapists remain at large and the government continues to chase shadows.
In this particular case, there were some lessons to be learnt. The most shocking is that the rape of minors is a growing trend in the country. “The average age of the rape victim in Karachi, according to data collected, is now nine years,” discloses Shiraz Ahmed, who works for the Karachi-based NGO, War Against Rape (WAR). “Child-rape is definitely on the rise. Many more cases are now being reported, but we can safely estimate that these are only 5 per cent of the actual number of cases.”
Ahmed says that influential perpetrators or their allies intimidate or bribe victims and their families into silence. “And society encourages the issue to be brushed under the carpet,” he adds.
In Punjab alone, there were 2,576 cases reported, according to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released recently.
The father of “S” continues to fight for justice. “Due to weak laws and punishment, these beasts continue to destroy the lives of women. I demand action that would set an example,” says Shafqat Mahmud. So far Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government has been helpless. Possibly this inaction encourages rapists.
Experts say that the more accessible a child is, the more at risk he or she is. Street children top the list. No official numbers are available regarding their exact number, but it is estimated that there are 1.5 million street children in Pakistan, according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC). To add to this, according to the HRCP’s 2013 report, 1,400 juveniles are in jail and the country has some 12 million child workers, half of them below 10. They all fall under the high risk category.
The role of police and the media
WAR’s Shiraz Ahmed says that on one level, more cases are being reported which shows a social change. At the same time he laments the fact that the trend of child rape is growing.
The media and the police also need to play a more positive role, he adds. The media has to be sensitized on how to handle such cases. “The media crosses lines. It shows the faces of the victims, their names and the images of the family,” laments Ahmed, concerned on issues of privacy and safety. “More sensitive reporting of such cases, especially of minors, is what will help in the long run.”
He also feels that the police need to be made more aware and more answerable. Sometimes corruption is the reason why they record complaints under sections that have loopholes.
Shiraz feels that the correct sections should be applied for the concerned crime.
Cycle of abuse
The cycle is never ending. Sarah Jafry, counsellor at WAR, comments, “a sexually abused child may indulge in risky sexual behaviour, wandering from one intimate relationship to another, because the child sees this as a way of feeling valuable and approved. Most of this is unconsciously done.”
Once abused, most victims almost never recover. Dr Rizwan Taj, head of Psychiatry department at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) says that the younger the victim, the longer lasting the impact. “Young victims lose trust and confidence they had in relationships.” The victim chooses isolation rather than trying to stabilize relationships with people.
Experts say that the government should arrange for free medical treatment and long-term counselling. This remains a dream for most, however. Many say that the government should wake up to what is becoming a crisis situation. So far, the government has only been sleeping, experts say.
Alarm: Rapid rise in child-rape
• 2,788 child sexual abuse cases were reported in 2012, as compared to 2,303 in 2011.
• On an average, eight children a day were abused during 2012.
• 71 per cent of minors who suffered abuse were girls.
• The age group most vulnerable to sexual abuse among girls and boys was 11 to 15 years.
• Some 5,689 abusers were involved in nearly 3,000 abuse cases, out of which 47 per cent were acquaintances
• 1,214 cases took place either at the acquaintances’ or the victims’ houses, according to the report.
Source: The annual “Cruel Numbers” report by NGO Sahil.