It’s been nearly a month since Imran Ali; child abuse criminal was hanged to death. His punishment had been hanging since the beginning of this year, when his shameful act of raping and then murdering 6 year old Zainab had shocked the nation to the core.
But with justice delivered, it is still not a case of chapter closed. For there are many more like Zainab, who continue to be haunted by men like Imran Ali. There have been several others, who met the same fate as Zainab’s, much before her.
The sordid crime continues to happen; the tragedy still repeats itself. It is yet to see how strong a lesson does Imran’s punishment teach others like him. Zainab’s parents had even made a plea for a public hanging of Imran Ali to be made a gory example for others, although rejected by court.
But is a strong punishment enough to eradicate the evil from root?
“Capital punishment is definitely not enough because the root cause remains unaddressed,” argues Mehreen Farhan, a writer, blogger and technology enthusiast.
“We should have awareness campaigns for parents of young children, introducing them to detailed child psychology and equipping them with ways on how they can teach their young children to stay away from ‘bad touch’ and bad people”.
What Mehreen Farhan is pointing at is the need for sex education. In Pakistan there is a misconception against this practice owing to the taboo attached to the word “sex”. Many still believe that sex education makes young girls and boys unnaturally conscious of the act at a premature stage and in turn, spreads immorality.
On the contrary, sex education is a concept through which students are indeed made aware of their bodies, but appropriate to their age. Such exposure not only helps them understand their physical needs in a healthy way, it also makes them aware of how to protect themselves; against disease or violence. To the surprise of many, this process can start very early.
“Sex education should start from kindergarten,”
explains Daheem Din, a Marriage and Family Therapist based in Lahore.
“If one creates a healthy image about oneself and the opposite gender, the curiosity among children settles down, it helps them deal with adolescence and leads them to be respectful about themselves and the physical being of others”.
The concept may still have limited support. Soon after the shocking demise of Zainab, in an interview with Pakistan Today, Senator Hafiz Hamdullah belonging to a far right political party “categorically denied his support to the issue of imparting sex education to children in schools”.
“We need to make our children aware of the dangers that they can face, this awareness needs to be given in schools, colleges even madrassahs,”the senator said.
“But if you want our support for the western version of sex education to be allowed in schools, we oppose the notion as it will aggravate the situation even more,”Hafiz Hamdullah had added.
Dr. Shehzad Saleem, Vice President of Al-Mawrid, a foundation for Islamic research and education, begs to differ slightly. “Sex education was always a part of the Islamic curriculum,” says Dr. Saleem.
“It is actually the manner in which children are taught about these issues that is important. For example 4-5 year olds should be told what to do if someone touches or fondles them.
With adolescent children, apart from educating them about personal hygiene, they should be educated on sexual aberrations like pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality and other perversions,”he explains.
While talking to the Express Tribune early this year, Council of Islamic Ideology Chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz had also said that no doubt including sexual education in curriculum will be a positive step while considering the gravity of the situation.
After Zainab’s death, the Punjab government also decided to introduce child protection curriculum in every educational institute of the province, including supplementary material based on injunctions of the Holy Quran. It launched a 24-point booklet Pakeza Zindagi regarding safety of children to be distributed among teachers and parents.
In Johi, a village in Pakistan’s southern province Sindh, teachers operating in schools run by a local organisation, have also been conducting classes of sex education to their students since the past 5 years.
Their lessons – starting at age eight – cover changes in their bodies, what their rights are and how to protect themselves.
Supporters of sex education argue that starting early, the practice can stop the nurturing of a rotten mindset which provokes heinous crimes like child abuse and molestation.
“Punitive measures should be adopted but it must be understood that punishments never solve situations: education, learning, changing mind sets and setting healthy social trends do so,” says Dr. Shahzad Saleem.
Mehreen Farhan agrees. “The real reform will be to invest in the minds and lives of people because most vultures have a history of abuse, neglect, hunger, hate, and lack of education”.
Imran Ali, who was sentenced for the rape and murder of 12 other girls apart from Zainab, was said to be a victim of child abuse himself.
Senior anchorperson Hamid Mir had claimed in an interview that Ali was abused over 50 times and was subjected to an unpleasant and cruel incident at the age of 12.
Disturbingly, there are some institutions, which have long been suspected to be centres of child abuse.
Among the poor, madrassahs or religious seminaries are popular because they feed and house their students. They conduct mostly Islamic subjects, with no formal education.
The schools, with many of them crossing the fine line and breeding terrorists in the name of jihadists, have since long, alleged to be the hub of child abuse.
Last year, when a cleric was caught red handed with his victim in a madrassah in a village in Punjab, the police were unable to pursue the case since pressure from militant groups forced the parent to drop charges and ‘forgive’ the attacker.
The case was only one of at-least three such cases that emerged in southern Punjab in the span of one month, which included gang rape of a 12-year-old boy by former students of a madrassah and the rape of a ten-year-old who was sodomised by the madrassah’s principal, as reported by the Express Tribune.
A senior official at a ministry tasked with registering cases of abuse told the same publication that the madrassah system reaches at least two million children and is ‘infested’ with sexual abuse. Estimates of the number of Islamic seminaries in Pakistan vary between 12,000 and 40,000.
“It is not just the case with the madrassah system but all institutions which have child-hostels,” points out Dr. Shahzad Saleem.
“In child-hostels sexual malpractices are common not only among those in charge and students/children but also amongst students themselves. However, it must be confessed that specifically in the case of the madrassah system, we are guilty of violation of human rights. Children are made to become Islamic scholars not by their choice but the choice of their parents”.
In turn, these very institutions are urged to play a role in promoting a healthy lifestyle. “In schools, ethics and morals should be taught the foremost so that they (students) become better human beings before becoming better Muslims,” suggests Dr. Shahzad Saleem. “Mosques should also play the role of inculcating morality among the masses. Clerics should be told to grant ample space in their sermons to the teaching of morality instead of some of the petty issues they generally harp on”.
And in case of such tragic incidents, counselling is also stressed upon. “Victim and abuser both need counselling,” says Daheem Din.“Survivors who escape do not escape the emotional and physical trauma. It should be mandatory for both”.
Sharoon Yasir, a freelance writer, blogger, storyteller, suggests expanding the radius of discussion deep in the society. “I think the death of the criminal does deter, but it does not end or assuage the issue.
There needs to be more awareness created on the matter and committees formed in different areas that personally talk to individuals and give them briefings on mental health, psychological well-being and taking care of your illegitimate desires so the individuals can then grab control of their mind”.
In a society which refuses not only to discuss topics associated with crime against children and adolescents, but also the crimes themselves, has a long way to reach a point when one can assume safety at least on a larger scale for the young ones.
Physical abuse of females; specifically sexual by the hands of their own relatives, is rampant. And yet the mothers of those very females beg or coerce them to remain quiet. They do not find it shameful when their daughters are molested or even raped in their own homes and their guardians turn a blind eye and mute tongues towards the acts. However, what shames them is to confront the culprit and expose his evil deeds in front of the family.
A child rights NGO, Sahil, has gathered statistics claiming that as many as 2,300 cases of crimes against children were reported in the country during the first six months of the current year alone. In 57 of these cases, children were killed after being raped.
Zainab’s death was avenged because her parents left no stone unturned until justice was imparted. Her death triggered emotions of shock, anger and repulse in the nation because they were made to know what Zainab had suffered.
Had her parents also remained quiet and shed tears, but guarded the secret for the rest of their lives, Imran Ali would have continued his rampage.
But Zainab was not alone. Few days back in Peshawar, a sessions court handed a total of 105 years in prison to a private school’s principal, Ataullah Marwat on charges of child abuse, pornography, rape, blackmail and maintaining illicit relations.
The principal and owner of the school was arrested after a case was registered against him on July 14, 2017, on the complaint of a male student. Marwat was accused of sexually exploiting school children, including girls, and filming them with secret cameras installed on campus.
Beware! The war has just begun. The enemies who rob our children of their innocence are still at large. We need to stop them before they play havoc and also warn our younger ones against them.
But most importantly, we need to save the next generation, by protecting and educating them, lest a viscous cycle turns them into abusers as well.
The article is contributed by Shabana Mahfooz; A Broadcast Journalist and freelance writer. She writes on issues related to women, religion, society and current affairs.