*Originally published in Pakistan Today.
The revelation of what is being called the country’s largest child abuse case has struck as a horrific nightmare. Two-hundred and ninety children abused in Ganda Singh Wala, most victims being under fourteen even including a six year old boy, their abuse videotaped and copies sold for sums as paltry as 50 rupees. Since 2006, just year less than a decade.
This entire tragedy has been nothing but a damning indictment of Pakistan’s government, state, society and culture; which continue to fail their children.
Sahil, an organization dedicated to the protection of children against abuse, issued 3508 as the number of cases of abuse for 2014. According to the organization, this brings the number of abused children to ten per day. However, it must be kept in mind that this figure has been gleaned from the number of cases reported in places such as newspapers; the real figure has to be staggering since child abuse goes widely unreported in the country owing to the clasp of culture. The practice of such heinous acts not just exists in this country but it is also rather prevalent, but child abuse is duly hushed up by “taboo” and “shame” in Pakistan’s society and culture and it is necessary that this norm ends today than tomorrow.
Abused children have done nothing to be held to “shame” – a concept used in our culture to continually silence the victimized and perpetuate such horrors in society. If there needs to be any shame, then it must be on our culture of silence, taboo and denial, and on all those who indulge in it. The silence demanded by our culture in face of such monstrosities is the very impunity and immunity granted to the perpetrators. And it is essential that the unearthing of this appalling case be taken to break this norm of silence by starting a conversation on the issue that can be helped by the government, the media and the civil society.
Further down the rotten list of arguments given against exposing the cruelty of child abuse is the national favorite: ruination of Pakistan’s image. Unfortunately, this argument was parroted by Rana Sanaullah when sought regarding this case who commented that the sordid affair should not have been reported since it brought “shame” to Pakistan’s image. A statement of such low caliber was certainly unbecoming of a provincial minister but perhaps there is scant to expect from those who hobnob and rub shoulders with those whose hands are stained and seeped with the blood of religious minorities. However, it is truly unsettling that such a mindset persists here which finds the revelation and discussion of plagues and problems in Pakistan far more perturbing than the existence of these troubles in the first place. Yet it is nothing more than a testament to our penchant for averting gaze from problems than acknowledging them. “Image” is merely a fancy concept many here use to toy with; to deceive themselves of existing dismal realities in Pakistan, for what good is an image when realities are so ghastly in this country? Where 140 children are murdered in their schools, where a seven year old raped is raped by several men for more than an hour; where hundreds of children are put through indelible pain and trauma, their childhoods forever usurped and lives ruined or put to an end.
It is only hoped that the provincial government won’t and doesn’t share the petty concerns and viewpoint of its law minister and deals with the seriousness the gravity of the matter merits. Dawn columnist Umair Javed correctly underscored the significance of Punjab government’s handling of this issue on social media: “This child abuse case, not some signal free corridor or some elevated expressway, will be the real benchmark for Punjab government’s effectiveness.”
The political figures that pressurized the victims’ families to withdraw allegations need to be named and brought to task along with the MPAs and police officials who refused to act. The government also needs to initiate a federal inquiry into the harrowing matter entailing the harshest of consequences for the sick perpetrators. What has happened in Ganda Singh Wala is neither a first of its kind and maybe not even the largest child abuse racket in the country; it is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg that has been unveiled. Therefore, this case must not be dealt myopically: passed to commissions, retributions handed down to the child abuse mafia involved in this alone and then forgotten as a distant nightmare that befell hundreds of children in a district of Kasur. This case must provide impetus for systematic inquiry into and operation against child abuse in Pakistan which probes its pervasiveness, traces it causes, victims and punishes perpetrators; followed by adequate legislation given teeth by strict implementation. Equally important is the need for a socio-cultural campaign that pushes for a conversation on the issue and convinces victims to come forward, for no such law or operation will work in Pakistan if devoid of cultural and social embrace – the socio-cultural acceptance, approval and support which is currently non-existent in the country whose society is in the grip of twisted notions of honor and shame that forbid speaking up against child abuse.
The fault lies everywhere; with the state, government, culture and society. And until each begins functioning in favor of the humanity, compassion, sympathy and responsibility deserved by the children of this country, we shall all be held complicit in their abuse.