Stories of horrendous abuse at madressahs continue to come in. The victims are rescued and tell their stories. The perpetrators are sometimes arrested and, nothing happens – until precisely the same sequence of events is repeated, once again. In the latest incident, in Karachi, the Gadap police have found some 50 boys chained in the basement of a madressah in Afghan Basti. Initial accounts say the boys have been tortured and subjected to sexual abuse. They might never have been discovered had a conscientious resident not reported the matter and pointed to the apparent involvement of a cleric at a local mosque. Similar accounts of trapped, abused and terrified boys have surfaced before – in Multan, in parts of interior Sindh, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and elsewhere. It is frightening to consider how many other cases remain unreported and unheard of. Madressahs are after all the fastest growing sector in our education system and, unlike all other kinds of schools, they have been able to resist inspections, checks or monitoring of any kind. This is a situation akin to disaster, and it obviously leads to the kind of crime we have seen in Karachi.
The affected children, no doubt from impoverished and powerless families, will bear the scars for life. The situation needs to be tackled on a wide scale. Thousands of seminaries operate everywhere – the vast majority unregistered and unregulated. Some way needs to be found to place checks on them, with the cooperation of organisations such as the Wifaqul Madaris – the central body for madressahs. Mainstream authorities and educationists should have some say over the curricula these madressahs teach, the methods they use and the manner in which they house children. But, at a broader level, we need to consider why seminary schools are multiplying so rapidly and whether we should be doing far more to salvage our public-sector education system and make it a viable option for parents – so as to prevent the growing drift towards madressahs where the quality and content of education are uncontrolled, as is the environment children are taught in.