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May 24, 2019

Rights activists, celebrities demand special police units to deal with child abuse cases


May 24, 2019

Raising concern over the abduction, rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl in Islamabad, prominent artists, sports stars and civil society activists on Thursday demanded of the government to act immediately to prevent child abuse and ensure child protection through teaching life skills-based education (LSBE) in all the schools.

The Zindagi Trust, an organisation working on reforms in the government schools, assembled a team of Pakistan's leading artistes, sports stars and activists on Thursday afternoon at the Karachi Press Club to push for sustainable action to prevent child sexual abuse.

Noted personalities Shehzad Roy, Mahira Khan, Younis Khan and Zeba Bakhtiar, and civil society activists Karamat Ali and Najim F Haji talked about the tragic death of young Farishta and many other victims of child abuse that never make it to the media.

The celebrities asked parents and teachers to break silence over child abuse and stop considering it disgraceful to discuss such issues with their children. They also urged the teachers and parents to educate children at schools and home about sexual abuse.

“Just a year ago here, after the brutal rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab in Kasur [in January 2018], we pledged to do whatever we could to ensure that no other child suffers that fate again,” Roy said. Citing statistics compiled by Sahil, a non-governmental organisation working for children’s rights, he added that between the two tragedies of Zainab and Farishta that shook the nation up, more than 10 cases of child abuse were reported on average every day.

Roy called for teaching through the LSBE approach in all the schools, including private ones, in order to ensure child protection.

In 2010, an LSBE-based curriculum was developed for schools to ensure that children could identify and protect themselves against child sexual abuse. The Zindagi Trust, founded by Roy, ran this programme so successfully at its government schools since 2011 that it was declared a model implementation of LSBE by Aahung, the non-profit organisation that had developed the curriculum.

“Only the Sindh government has included the LSBE in textbooks and the Balochistan government has principally agreed to incorporate it in its curriculum,” Roy said, adding that the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governments were still not taking any action in this regard although they were requested to do so. “We have made some headway but there is still a long way to go,” he remarked.

Roy said the LSBE programme covered concepts like ‘good touch, bad touch’, and other aspects of child and gender rights in an age-appropriate and culturally sensitive manner that had also been approved by religious scholars.

The LSBE teaches children to recognise and protect themselves against physical and sexual abuse, and violations of child and gender rights regarding disease, hygiene and nutrition, he said.

The Zindagi Trust founder was of the view that in addition to the urgent need for the LSBE teaching in government schools, child protection units also needed to be activated and made effective in every province. He also called for setting up a special police unit trained to deal with the cases of child sexual abuse and state-sponsored shelters for the children who survived sexual abuse that often occurred inside their houses.

Roy also emphasised the need for sensitising staff at hospitals and clinics to needs of the survivors of child sexual abuse so that such children could be provided appropriate care.

“This is a sad event but such horrible incidents are happening regularly across the country. Children are suffering badly due to such incidents of abuse and it is high time to do what we can to prevent this,” said actress Mahira. “Until children are taught about it, they will not know that it is a problem.”

“Awareness regarding good touch, bad touch should start from home. Let’s make sure we don’t come across another incident like Farishta’s,” she said, asserting that taking care of mental health of such minors should be a priority.

Former captain of Pakistani cricket team Younis Khan and actress Bakhtiar emphasised the importance of having conversations about these matters with children. They also spoke briefly in Pashto about the issue to address the Pashtun community who are sometimes reluctant to report cases of child abuse to the police owning to cultural norms.

The speakers demanded that the state establish special police units at every level with officers trained to deal with cases of child sexual abuse, activate and mobilise social welfare departments and child protection units, provide free legal aid to the survivors of child abuse, establish shelters for them and provide them free counselling and therapy.

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