IT was in January last year that the case of little Zainab in Kasur sparked protests across Pakistan, gripping the public’s consciousness for months, following her brutal rape and murder. Society and state went into overdrive promising to deliver justice. And though the intense public outrage and scrutiny did ultimately help in identifying and prosecuting her killer, what ought to have been a watershed moment for ensuring the rights and protection of Pakistan’s children was, to a certain extent, derailed by base motivations.

The media, which played a pivotal role in spotlighting Zainab’s case and the broader issue of rampant child sexual abuse, often succumbed to sensationalist reportage, including lurid politicised claims.

Justice for Zainab: Timeline of the Kasur rape, murder case that gripped the nation

Exposed not just for being asleep at the wheel in the face of overwhelming evidence of a serial predator in Kasur’s midst, but for having earlier killed an innocent man in a staged encounter for the latter’s crimes, the police seemed more concerned with appearing proactive rather than establishing methodical investigative norms.

Announcing her killer’s arrest, Punjab’s then chief minster struck a rather distastefully triumphant note, while a disturbingly large section of Pakistanis demanded the medieval practice of public executions. In our national distress, when fortitude and wisdom were called for, we may have not always appealed to our better nature.

Have we learnt any lessons since last year? Much of this gaucheness might be forgiven if it led to a sustained drive for social and institutional reforms. Indeed, behind the scenes, there are those who are working diligently to raise awareness and provide children and families with the necessary tools to prevent, report and heal from the physical and emotional wounds of sexual assault. But, daily reports of children being sexually abused and murdered continue to surface.

One report, tracking data on child abuse cases reported in newspapers across Pakistan, recorded 3,445 cases in 2017, and 2,322 in the first six months of 2018 alone — demonstrating a significant uptick. It is clearly only the tip of the iceberg, but does the rise actually signify an increase in the incidence rate, or does it reflect that increased awareness has reduced stigma and improved mechanisms for reporting such crimes?

The Senate committee inquiring into child abuse has lamented the lack of credible data to formulate any meaningful strategy to combat this scourge. We owe Zainab — and the countless nameless, faceless child victims like her — to do better.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019

Opinion

Sub judice rule
18 Sep 2021

Sub judice rule

It is time this objection, sub judice, is laid to rest.
The Black Caps folly
Updated 18 Sep 2021

The Black Caps folly

There is so much wrong — and worrying — about the entire sorry episode of New Zealand backing out of Pakistan tour.
CT NAP revisited
Updated 18 Sep 2021

CT NAP revisited

A policy of appeasement towards extremists has undermined the state’s writ.
Pathways for reform
Updated 17 Sep 2021

Pathways for reform

Even now the government has said they are listening, but they have not said how they are listening.

Editorial

Blinken’s remarks
Updated 18 Sep 2021

Blinken’s remarks

The US establishment cannot scapegoat Pakistan for two decades of bad policy in Afghanistan.
18 Sep 2021

Worrying survey

THE findings of the Labour Force Survey 2018-19 indicate that some important headline trends have already taken or...
18 Sep 2021

Special needs

THE fact that only 3,653 children with special needs, out of some 300,000 in Sindh, are registered with the...
TTP amnesty?
Updated 17 Sep 2021

TTP amnesty?

An amnesty should be for some individuals, not the entire outfit.
17 Sep 2021

Media regulation

THE needless controversy over media regulation may finally be heading for a resolution. In a meeting with ...
17 Sep 2021

Refusing audit

THE continuous resistance put up by several public-sector organisations to submitting their accounts for audit by ...