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Actress Mahira Khan speaks during a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday. Former cricketer Younis Khan, singer Shehzad Roy and actress Zeba Bakhtiar are also present.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Actress Mahira Khan speaks during a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday. Former cricketer Younis Khan, singer Shehzad Roy and actress Zeba Bakhtiar are also present.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: “It has been one year since we were here but the issue is still the same. At that time we were here after the unfortunate Zainab incident and this time we are here after what happened to Farishta,” said Shehzad Roy, singer, musician, activist and the founder of Zindagi Trust, during a press conference called by leading artists and athletes at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday to push for a sustainable action to prevent child sexual abuse.

The horrific rape and murder of 10-year-old Farishta brought about another grim realisation that an average of 10 cases of child abuse are reported on a daily basis. In 2010, a Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) curriculum was developed by Aahung, an NGO, for schools to ensure children could identify and protect themselves against child sexual abuse. The LSBE programme covered concepts such as good touch, bad touch, child and gender rights in an age appropriate, culturally sensitive manner and it was also reviewed and approved by the ulema.

“Zindagi Trust, in its work to reform the government school system, has been successfully running the programme at the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School since 2011 to see significant gains in terms of student awareness, confidence and openness to report cases of harassment or abuse,” said Roy.

“From then onwards, Zindagi Trust has been advocating to introduce child protection through LSBE in schools across Pakistan. After the Zainab tragedy in early 2018, the Sindh and Balochistan governments took notice followed by agreeing to integrate LSBE into the provincial curriculum. But as things stand, much work still remains to be done as they have introduced the subject in just one chapter of just one book published by the Sindh Textbook Board. Meanwhile, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are unmoved,” pointed out Roy.

Former cricketer Younis Khan said that the issue of child abuse needed to be spoken about and not swept under the rug. “This is a huge societal issue which is not even reported much in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to the Pakhtun culture which sees talking about such things as shameful or embarrassing,” Younis spoke in Pushto trying to directly address the people of his province.

“So many innocent lives are ruined this way and just because of such crimes are not reported. Spreading awareness about speaking up is very important here because children don’t talk about abuse anyway and making them stay silent or not paying heed to what they are telling you about something that may have happened to them can make the matter so much worse,” he said.

“So please do not feel embarrassed to speak up because talking about it leads to awareness and spreading awareness would lead to prevention,” he said.

Also choosing to speak in Pushto, Zeba Bakhtiar then said that she hails from Balochistan where the people are also ashamed to bring up the subject of child abuse. “But when you see 10 cases being reported each day, think about how many cases could there be which are not reported,” she said.

“Therefore, there is a dire need to educate our children about it through the media, radio, television, press and through schools. They all come into play here,” she added.

Mahira Khan said that after Zainab’s case, the cases of abuse should have lessened but it is all still happening. “It is because we hush down the voices of our children. Please listen to them, please believe them,” she said.

“Also, once a case has been reported it has to be handled properly too. Be it the police, councillors or child protection units, they should be equipped to handle the cases. Our children are our future. Empower them to feel confident enough to speak up,” she reminded.

Activists Nazim Haji and Karamat Ali were also present on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2019