'I wouldn't want my kids to see and be brutalised by it' — parents speak out against public hangings

Parents from various backgrounds across Pakistan share their views on public executions and their effect on children.
Published February 9, 2018

In the wake of the Zainab rape and murder case, as the Council of Islamic Ideology debated whether public hangings should be mandated in certain cases, a group of parents with young children were questioned on their views regarding the act.

They were asked what effect such a public demonstration of punishment would have on children witnessing it, and if in their opinion, it would be effective against curbing incidents of child sexual abuse in future.

Their responses were collected by Dawn.com and Justice Project Pakistan from a multitude of cities across Pakistan and have been shared below.

Sanam Taseer, gallerist. Sons aged six and nine.

I don’t want my children to witness a public execution as I don’t want my children inured to violence.

I don’t want them exposed to the kind of bloodlust that led to the commission of these brutal crimes in the first place.

I don’t want to rip away their innocence. Public executions are a form of societal barbaric revenge, and only perpetuate the cycle of violence. I want them to build a world where killing is not the answer.

Valerie Khan Yousafzai, child’s rights activist. Children aged 11, 15, 17, and 20.

As a parent, and a child’s rights activist, protecting my children from sexual abuse has always been one of my priorities.

So when such news appears on TV, when I must hold the hands of a grieving mother whose child was abused, I obviously feel angry and frustrated beyond words.

Yet, those feelings must not lead me to lose my own humanity. I cannot. I am a mother, I have responsibilities.

I do not want my children to see more violence, experience more trauma, by witnessing a public hanging.

I want them to understand that the state must show reason and be above mob emotions, that violence begets violence, and that killing child molesters has never reduced child sexual abuse.

I must tell them the truth and make them realise that humanity must prevail.

Benazir Shah, journalist. Daughter aged four.

When our pet dog died, I told my four-year-old that he had left for a long vacation. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her about the finality of death.

Then, recently, she saw the picture of a seven-year-old girl, Zainab. “Why is she always in the news?” she asked. A terrible man hurt her, I replied, hoping she wouldn’t ask how.

Where is the man now? In prison, safely put away, so he would never hurt anyone again.

Yet, there are calls for the terrible man to be hung to death. His execution to be a public spectacle.

If my daughter was to bear witness to such a violent act, then I would have to talk to her, not only about death, but also about suffering. About what happened to Zainab and why. About why this man deserved to be killed, and not just be put away forever.

But how would I explain to her why executing criminals was more important than protecting children? Or why this public display of brutality was necessary?

And when even after the terrible man is killed, there is another Zainab. What would I say?

Mobeen Shafaat, marketing director. Children aged one, six, 10 and 14.

A public hanging is nothing more than a spectacle. It’s a show, it’s going to be lapped up by television channels for ratings, and I won’t be surprised if it even gets sponsors.

Anyone who thinks this is justice is fooling themselves.

I want my children to have a strong sense of what’s right and wrong, but when they see a man being killed right before their eyes, and think that that is what is “right,” then we are raising an entire generation to have a very skewed sense of what justice is.

We all want to protect our children, especially from those who can harm them. But exposing them to this much violence, and letting them think that that is okay, is just as damaging.

Javed Masih, office helper. Daughter aged five.

My daughter picks up on everything — lines she hears on television, things her friends say, words she hears at home.

I’m terrified that she could see someone be hanged, and think that that is an acceptable practice.

I don’t want her to be thinking of such things at such a delicate age because I have no idea how to explain it to her.

How is someone her age expected to understand what a hanging is? Why should she even be expected to know how this works before she can even fully read?

We should let children be children.

Munazza Nadeem, housewife. Son aged eight.

I have a very simple question, “What do we want our children to learn from public hangings?” because an execution is not a lesson but a threat. It’s not just a spectacle but a nightmare, and it’s not justice but madness.

I don’t want my eight-year-old to learn more and more ways a human being can be put to death.

At first I had to save him from the continuous media coverage of terrorist attacks, as he had started playing with toy guns; then I had to save him from video games, as he had started punching everyone in his class.

I have no idea what he will do after witnessing public hangings.

Dr Ali Madeeh Hashmi, psychiatrist. Father of teenage children.

The death penalty does not deter crime, including child abuse. Public hangings will most decidedly not prevent such crimes in the future.

On the other hand, it will brutalise and traumatise people, including the children it is supposedly protecting.

Those demanding such punishments, in the face of evidence to the contrary, are demonstrating their own depraved mindset. They are no better than any bloodthirsty mob.

The main thing no one is discussing about child abuse is prevention.

Why is it happening so much? What can we do to prevent it (other than punishing the perpetrators after the fact)?

How can we help victims and families and prevent them from becoming abusers?

Ayesha Kasuri, educator. Daughters aged two, 13 and 17.

Watching life go out of a person is the most disturbing thing I can think of; it is so finite and eternal.

These concepts are too abstract for children, and in the case of public hangings, we are desensitising our children to a point that is unnecessary.

As it is, we have robbed them of their childhood; they can't bike to school, they can't play with their neighbourhood friends, they go to schools with barbed wires and armed guards (mandatory now for government as well as private institutions), and now this.

Please let my children be children and let them enjoy the few precious years of innocence left. Eventually, they too will come to terms with the harshness of this world.

My daughters are two, 13 and 17. Two of them are aware of what has happened; we've talked about it, we watched the videos in horror, we went to the vigil in Islamabad, decided punishment is for God to give, and all we can do is educate.

Nadia Jamil, actor and activist. Mother of two.

Our children see enough violent crimes without witnessing public executions as well.

With every act of violence we expose young minds to, we leave a traumatic memory that desensitises them from a more humane experience of life.

It is horrible to think that after shooting each other with toy guns, as has become an integral part of every child’s play time, public hangings, upon becoming the norm, will also find their way into children’s games.

Please protect children from more violence in society. They see enough violence around them already, and are too often victims of savagery.

I beg of you. It’s too gruesome. Nowhere in the world are children this accustomed when it comes to death, unless they live in a war zone.

Mina Malik-Hussain, writer. Children aged two, four, six, and eight.

I do not support capital punishment. Statistically it doesn't decrease crime and one cannot logically oppose one kind of killing and support another — it's a pretty binary stance.

As a parent, I am horrified at the idea of public hangings. In this age of unbridled television and social media content, we already struggle to protect our children from the depths of depravity mankind can fall to, and images of the same.

A public hanging is the height of violence and no child should ever witness one, even by mistake. You can’t tell them “killing is wrong – except for a few times.”

Daanyal Masum, technoloy professional. Children aged two, five and 10.

I am not opposed to the death penalty. I believe it is not immoral, and can act as a deterrent.

That being said, I do wrestle with the fact, and am unable to square the circle, of having the death penalty applied in a country where the justice system and policing is so heavily skewed against the poor and the disenfranchised.

The push from the citizenry and from legislators for a public hanging of Zainab's killer is populism at its worst and will open the gates to an unhealthy appetite for more — too much panem et circenses about it.

I wouldn't want my kids and others to see that and be brutalised by it.

I would never want them to think that this should be a spectacle. That this is normal or something to be cheered. That they learn at such young ages how cheap life can be.

This world teaches us that fact eventually, but I am not a fan of hurrying that process along. There are things societies must do because they are necessary, but not show too much delight in — like the business of war — lest they grow too fond of them.

Ali Arqam, journalist. Father of two sons and two daughters, aged two and nine, and six and 12, respectively.

It is disturbing to think about criminals hanged publicly, and individuals watching. This demonstration of viciousness, and turning it into a type of amusement for the onlookers, would have disastrous effects on people’s psyches, particularly children.

I remember the fear in the eyes of my six-year-old daughter Forough Farrokhzade when she was narrating a road incident in which a girl of her age, from the same school, was killed by a reckless motorcyclist.

She feared going to school without her mom for the next couple of days. My wife and I had to persistently connect with her on an emotional level, for a whole week, to help her escape the harrowing memories.

It’s ghastly to suppose she could witness a public execution, and appalling to imagine the impact the act will have on her innocent mind.