SAHIL, a nonprofit organisation working for the rights and protection of children, recently published its findings on instances of child sexual abuse carried out last year. Taken from 85 newspapers, the results are horrifying: 3,832 cases of sexual abuse were reported in 2018.
The majority (63pc) of cases were reported from Punjab, followed by 34pc from Azad Kashmir, 27pc from Sindh, 4pc from KP, 2pc from Balochistan, 3pc from Islamabad, and six cases from Gilgit-Baltistan.
Out of the total number of victims, 55pc victims were girls and 45pc were boys.
When keeping in mind that these are simply the number of reported cases in a country where people are understandably apprehensive about reaching out to law-enforcement agencies over crimes of a sexual nature, it becomes clear that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
So many children — with no agency, and taught from a young age to obey and not question adults — suffer in silence, particularly due to the culture of shame surrounding the topic.
In many cases, the perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence are acquainted with the victim and/or his/her family members.
On the same day that Sahil’s findings were released, the tragic end of 12-year-old Ali Hassan from Lahore was reported. On his mother’s instructions, the boy had left his home to collect some money from his neighbours. He never returned. Three weeks later, his body was found. Strangled to death, his body was then burnt by his kidnappers, who did not want his identity to be revealed. The case may not have been sexual in nature but revealed the dangers faced by our most vulnerable segment of society.
Better laws are needed for the protection of our children, including, as suggested, the creation of child-friendly courts.
Just last month, a 14-year-old boy was on his way to a coaching centre in Rawalpindi when he was shot dead after resisting a rape attempt. Another boy took his own life after being sexually assaulted by two adult men in Battagram. His ordeal was filmed by the monstrous perpetrators, who then tried to blackmail him with the images.
The list of victims is endless. It did not start with Zainab in 2018, or with Kasur in 2015. Indeed, the abuse and sexual abuse of children is this nation’s hidden shame. The cycle of violence will only end when the culture of silence ends. We need to start having that difficult conversation now.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2019