TORTURE and sexual abuse of minors at religious seminaries are not new developments. Over the years, many cases have come to light where deviancy and a propensity for violence have been attributed to the custodians of madressahs in various parts of the country. In the most recent case, after a TV bulletin which highlighted the issue, more than 50 shackled children and men were recovered from the basement of a seminary off the Super Highway in Karachi. Arrests were made and it is expected that the accused will be prosecuted. Most of the men and children recovered by the authorities spoke of severe beatings and some also talked of abuse of another nature by men who claim to speak in the light of the divine. Only a trial in a court of law will establish the facts as they stand.
Many of the victims, some of whom have been handed over to their parents, were deposited at this so-called madressah because they were reportedly drug addicts. That brings us to a crucial point. The madressah in question was supposedly running a detoxification centre for those addicted to hard drugs. Did the bosses and employees at the seminary have the medical know-how to treat addicts? Apparently not. Lacking knowledge, they resorted to strong-arm tactics that left a generation bruised for life. What is the answer? It is the responsibility of the state to provide adequate healthcare facilities to any person, of either gender, with mental health and drug addiction problems. Then there is the education failure, which can also be attributed to the state. When the government does not deliver other actors step in, sometimes in a predatory role. In our case, it is madressahs that promise education, food and room and board, and parents take the plunge because in many instances they have no other choice. No doubt they have little idea that their children could be physically abused by those seen as mentors in the wider societal picture. Madressah regulation is the need of the hour. Without it our children are not safe and every effort must be made to ensure their well-being.