IT is time the government adopted tough legal measures to prosecute child sexual abuse cases so that we are able to protect our future generations. Calling out the cruel indifference of the state towards child rights, a recent report on child sexual abuse revealed 2,322 cases countrywide between January and June this year, compared to the same period in 2017 when 1,764 incidents were recorded. This indicates a 32pc increase. Collating media reports, Sahil, a child rights organisation, noted that more than 12 children were abused every day. These statistics not only underline the deep-seated complexity of the problem but remind us of the perils of not taking action against abusers. When the rule of law is inadequate, perpetrators remain unaffected, especially when the police respond in a way that does not protect underprivileged victims. Children between the ages of six and 15 years are the most vulnerable, while there is an alarming increase in under-five rape cases. This uptick in numbers, however, could be attributed to the increase in complaints filed as some victims and their families have begun to courageously speak out after the public outrage spurred by the Kasur child sexual scandal in 2015. Yet, breaking the silence can prove perilous; survivors are often disbelieved, even ostracised. According to the report, 48pc of abusers were acquainted with their victims. When abusers belong to the same community or family, it is easier for them to lure their victims and threaten them into silence.

Although the rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab in Kasur elicited national anger not too long ago, much remains to be done to tackle the underlying causes of such crimes, as well as to adopt measures to prosecute sexual violence. To this end, not only is Pakistan a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the state has legislated to criminalise child sexual assault, child pornography and trafficking. The problem, however, lies in inadequate implementation. As a first step, the government must constitute a national commission to protect child rights. Secondly, streamlining better processes to facilitate complaints and providing counselling and medical help are imperative. Raising public awareness in schools and in the media on recognising and preventing all forms of abuse should be mandatory. For too long, the epidemic of violence against children has been sidelined. This must change to protect their future.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2018

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