IN the Lahore Children’s Hospital, a seven-year-old girl from Sargodha who was raped lies in critical condition. According to the doctors, the injuries sustained by the child on the lower part of her body are so severe that they have become infected. The infection, called septicemia, or sepsis, has spread through her body, and may not prove responsive to antibiotics. And so, another child of Pakistan lies at death’s door in a society that knows no accountability, particularly for its weakest members.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the rape of children was deemed deserving of some outrage, even if it was of the usual perfunctory Pakistani sort. Last year, when a little girl was kidnapped from outside her house, raped and then left near a hospital, many had raised their voices against the grotesque nature of the crime. Since then, it seems, this evil too has become absorbed in the fabric of apathy that allows Pakistanis to witness and then ignore what to a normal society would be the cause of deep disturbance and alarm.
A number of child rapes have been reported in just the past couple of months. Early last month, the body of a six-year-old boy was found in a mosque. According to reports, the little boy had been raped repeatedly before his body was abandoned. A man who had come to the mosque to pray said that he had seen the boy’s body and told the mosque administration about it. Among the people who are being investigated is the mosque’s chief cleric. The same month, a seven-year-old girl was found raped and stoned to death, according to news reports. Similarly, in November last year, a five-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped in the Islampura area of Lahore. This incident is said to have taken place inside a school.
No school, no mosque and no madressah in the country features programmes against child sexual abuse or discusses self-defence strategies.
Schools, mosques and hospitals are thus all unsafe for Pakistan’s children, and so are the streets, particularly for the kids who live on them. Last year, Streets of Shame, a documentary focusing on the street children of Peshawar, revealed just how precarious and devoid of innocence their existence is.
Numbering over a million, these street children live at the mercy of pimps and handlers who rent them out. Nine out of 10 street children are believed to have been sexually abused.
The truck drivers who ply the highways in their brightly coloured vehicles are said to be the instruments of the terror inflicted on them; indeed, according to numbers quoted in the documentary, 95pc of truck drivers admitted that having intercourse with a young boy was one of their favourite pastimes during rest breaks. In the words of human rights lawyer Zia Awan, “This is happening everywhere, in the big cities, small cities, in the villages and towns.”
It should come as little surprise then that children are being raped and their bodies dumped on roofs and trash heaps and open fields all around Pakistan. And horrible consequences for the victims when others discover they have been raped are not unusual either.
In the documentary, when the older brother of the young boy learns that his brother had been gang-raped, he declared that this was “his own sin” and that he would have burned him alive if he had found out. The blame of rape, even if the victim is a child, is squarely on the victim. Instead of catching the culprits, society deems it correct to eliminate the person who has already suffered.
The law helps accomplish the task. In late 2010, the Federal Shariat Court declared that the provisions of the Women’s Protection Act of 2006, which prevented rape victims from being prosecuted for adultery or fornication under the Zina and Hudood Act of 1979, were unconstitutional. In its judgments the court declared that Section 11, 28 and 29 of the Act attempted to “override” the provisions of the Zina and Hudood Ordinance. Parliament was given until June, 2011, to pass new provisions but it never did. Hence, the cumulative effect of the court’s decision was that if a rape FIR is filed and the requisite four adult male witnesses are not provided, the complaint can still be converted to one under the Zina and Hudood Ordinance.
Since the horrific attack on the Army Public School last December, much is being said about the country’s responsibility to its youngest and most vulnerable. Every now and then, this new resolve is featured in pictures and articles in which children from this or that school are seen learning drills so that they know what to do when their school faces a terror attack. Trainings held in various provinces have taught children to evacuate buildings, learn emergency first aid and even to use firearms, lest they have to take on the attackers themselves.
The lessons of Peshawar have been that in a society riven with terror, innocence is a luxury that a Pakistani child cannot afford; guns are everywhere — children may as well learn to use them.
The terror of rape, however, is the unspoken scourge that no one is willing to acknowledge and whose taint is so great as to render victims, even when they are children, utterly worthless in the eyes of a Pakistan that otherwise professes to love them.
No school, no mosque and no madressah in the country features programmes against child sexual abuse or discusses self-defence strategies that children could use against the predators who lurk all around them. Perhaps, secretly, Pakistan has already concluded that these children simply don’t have a chance.
If this is true, the girl battling for her life against septicemia at the Lahore Children’s Hospital is doomed already, perhaps better off dead than living in a country that couldn’t care less about her ordeal.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn February 25th , 2015