KARACHI: The disturbing issue of increasing sexual and physical abuse in our educational institutions was taken up by the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) during a press conference here on Saturday.
“It’s a very serious issue that no one can ignore. We have also discussed this matter in our meetings including the one held in Abbottabad recently where there was also a resolution passed, which highlighted the physical, sexual and mental abuse that the students of our educational institutions are subjected to. It is a very concerning matter, which has left our children vulnerable,” said Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro, general secretary of the PMA’s Karachi chapter.
“Protection of our children should be ensured in the Constitution of Pakistan. Our government should play its role in keeping our society clean. It is the need of the hour. Forty per cent of our population of 220,892,340 persons is under the age of 15. And such issues hinder their education, which is a human right. Here children under five years of age are also abused. It leaves a lasting effect on their impressionable minds,” he said.
Dr Aisha Mehnaz, a paediatrician, said that it is a very sad situation where they encounter such cases of child abuse almost daily. “The cases that we see are the ones, which get to be reported. There are also many cases that no one knows about. And some of those we treat in hospital are so severe that I find it hard to even discuss them,” she said, adding that many cases are brought to them by non-governmental organisations, which deal with the matter in their own way. But there is no system or way of punishing the abusers.
Seek measures to protect children at schools and madressahs
“The abuse is not just happening in educational institutions. It is also present in daycare centres and orphanages. And there is no database for child abuse and no mandatory reporting system here,” she said. “And this physical abuse comes with mental abuse. The effects of mental abuse come later. It calls for more in-depth study.”
Naeem Sadiq, a social activist, said that a lot can be said about a society by seeing how the people in it treat their children and animals. “There is a way to fix wrongs such as child abuse,” he said, going on to mention some of these ways that he has identified.
“In Pakistan, 60 per cent of the children have not even been registered, so they don’t even exist on paper. Also we don’t know of the number of seminaries and the number of students there. We need this data, we need these facts,” he said.
Child protection body proposed
“All the people working in all the schools and madressahs must be clear about their policy regarding child protection. Child protection is the right of each and every child, and it needs to be explained to them what abuse is and what is unacceptable. There is a need for a child protection committee here, too. And the children must be educated about who in the committee to report anything to. Teachers, staff and parents are also not to sit quietly, but report abuse,” he said.
“The committee should protect, support and offer counselling to the victims and their families. It should also make sure that the culprit is dealt with,” he said.
Mr Sadiq also said that there is a child protection officer in every district and people should go to them with their complaints. “Make sure that all the staff at all the educational institutions are made aware, properly trained against child abuse because the laws in our country are insufficient to care for our young,” he said, adding that cases of child labour are also rife here, and many of the laws passed are not even implemented.
“It all comes down to poverty and our growing population. We are not paying minimum wages here, we are not paying EOBI so parents here sell their children or send them to work,” he said while pointing out how it is all interconnected.
Agreeing with Mr Sadiq, Dr Mirza Azhar Ali, president of PMA’s Sindh chapter, said that it is the poorest of the poor who also send off their children to madressahs to fulfil their basic needs such as that of food and clothing. “Then if something happens and we raise our voice over it, we are labelled as liberal and secular as if that is something wrong to be,” he said.
“Madressahs are supposed to be run by very well-educated and respectable people. They should also be as concerned as us about the safety and protection of our children,” he said. “But here, they are more into sweeping things under the carpet.
“These days every other news is about child abuse be it in the mainstream media or social media,” he said. “All these reports beg for attention. The government should set up a commission including people from all walks of life to look into these reports of child abuse in our educational institutions.
“It is our right to protect our children and raise our voice against any wrongdoing so that the law must punish the abusers,” he added.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2021