Our domestic helper resides at our house. And even though she is not a minor, every month when her mother comes to meet her from their village, she asks me, "Is my daughter sleeping inside the house? You don’t send her out do you?"
I assure her each time that she sleeps inside and has no interaction with any male workers in or around the house — but I also know, despite any reassurance I give, the mother’s concerns will always remain.
Where I might follow my son around the house every minute of the day and teach him to avoid strangers before I even potty-train him, I realise that not every mother can.
Raising a family of eight children, heavily in debt and uneducated for the most part, the maid’s mother must worry about her daughter’s safety in a stranger’s home.
I can take care of her daughter’s safety just as I would of my own, but will I trust my own child to be in a stranger’s home the way she does? Definitely not.
Abuse: The everyday occurrence
Abuse against children fills our news stream every other day. In the past month alone, there have been at least six cases of sexual abuse against children reported in local news.
We can be sure that there may be a dozen more that were hidden from the media to avoid the ‘shame’ most family members of the victims dread.
These cases do not just involve young girls — at least two of the rape cases in the past two weeks have been of boys.
A 13-year-old girl in Larkana was raped enough times by her school teacher for her to get pregnant.
Imagine sending your child to school, walking on his/her own through the streets. Imagine not having the means to do anything upon finding out your child has been a victim of abuse.
As a parent, it's paralysing.
The report ‘The state of Pakistan’s children 2015’, launched by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc), states that 10 cases of child sexual abuse took place every day in 2015 across the country.
According to a study by Sahil, an NGO working against child sex abuse, the number of young boys being abused increased by 4.3 per cent in the first half of 2015, compared to the same period last year.
In many of these cases, the rapists manage to flee or are arrested, only to be released later by a powerful acquaintance or a landlord.
Sweeping sexual abuse under the carpet
Child sexual abuse is a real and immediate problem in Pakistan but more often than not, it is ignored or worse, trivialised. More often than not, it is associated only with shame.
The most troubling aspect of the issue in Pakistan is the lack of conversation around it; it's as if nobody is even considering the impact of this profound violation of defenceless human beings.
Kasur, Swat: Where is the debate around either of the country's recent child abuse scandals?
Take a look: Does anyone remember Kasur?
Every attempt to perpetuate debate around this issue is promptly thwarted. Recently, Pemra issued a notice against the drama serial Udaari.
The drama seeks to raise awareness about sexual abuse against children. Shortly after it aired, Pemra sent a notice to makers of the show seeking an explanation for the ‘unethical’ scenes in the show's recent episodes.
Our local dramas seem to be getting away just fine with airing misogynist and classist storylines. But the systematic abuse of our children, the issue of which is currently staring the nation in the face, is met with blunt dismissals, and the telling of this important story is deemed ‘unethical’.
While Udaari is a commendable effort, we must do more — our debate needs to be at the grass-roots level; in schools and at home.
It is becoming imperative for schools — both public and private — to raise awareness in classrooms. Children need to be told, and they need to be told repeatedly that it is not okay for anyone to touch them if it makes them uncomfortable.
More importantly, in the absence of unimplemented sanctions against child abuse in Pakistan, these difficult conversations need to happen in our homes today — it is proving to be the only way we can protect our children.