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September 13, 2015

‘Hush-hush approach to child sex abuse needs to stop’


September 13, 2015

When talking about the recent child sexual abuse case in Kasur, it is imperative to place it in the right context and not view it in isolation.
It is only a part of the larger crisis of governance in the country, made worse by the absence of any dialogue over sexual health.
Though sexual abuse is also rampant in many other countries, what makes it worse in Pakistan is that the victims are almost always silent with the consent of close family members, who ironically are most often the perpetrators themselves.
However, Kasur broke the barrier of silence and sexual abuse is part of the national discourse, even as a scandal and nothing more.
These views were expressed by panellists speaking at a seminar held at the Habib University on Saturday titled “The open secret: child sexual abuse in Pakistan”.
Dr Murad Moosa Khan, a professor of psychiatry at the Aga Khan University, said it was important not to view the whole scenario in isolation as it was a mere symptom of a much larger malaise - the utter lack of governance mechanisms in the country.
“Child sexual abuse takes place in other countries as well but Pakistan is an anomaly because there are way more factors for social and economical stress and no mechanisms for dealing with them,” he added.

Curtain of culture
There are specific mechanisms in other countries for dealing with social issues but Pakistan lacks them.
“This is important because the crisis of governance is closely linked to specific problems, such as the one brought to light in Kasur,” Dr Khan said. “This is made worse by our ‘curtain of culture’ which is actually an amalgamation of religion and culture. This enhances our selective interpretation of religion which is then reflected in the society,” he added.
“Domestic violence in our country, in the form of verbal and physical abuse of women, is as high as 90 percent but it is accepted supposedly because our religion allows

it.” Dr Aisha Mehnaz, a professor of paediatrics at the Dow University of Health Sciences, said while the western world talked about child sexual abuse openly, the debate was stifled in Pakistan.
She pointed out that in Kasur, sexual abuse was for economic reasons as the videos made were smuggled abroad and many families already knew what was going on.
Dr Mehnaz, who also heads Konpal Child Abuse Prevention Society and is a focal person for the provincial government, said that Sindh had passed a law for setting up a child protection authority three years ago but there was no progress in devising its rules of business, without which the legislation would remain useless.
She emphasised the need for formulating and updating the relevant laws, advertised so proudly by the provincial government.
Author Asif Farrukhi, who moderated the session, said Pakistan was a “sexually oppressive” society, where any talk about even everyday natural phenomena such as breastfeeding was hushed up.
“That is the main reason why most of the cases go unreported and there is such a dearth of reliable data about the actual scale of the problem,” he noted.
However, he added that the statistics that were available showed that cases of sexual abuse were on the rise.
He pointed out that around 3,500 cases had been reported last year which was a 17 percent increase in comparison with those in 2013.

Debate at home
Dr Aisha Mian, the chairperson of the psychiatry department of the Aga Khan University, concurred with the views that Pakistan was a sexually oppressive society, whether any talk about sexuality - be it good or bad - was a taboo.
She said the cycle most often began at home, whether it was abuse or its process of healing.
“In most of the cases, the abusers are close family members and when a child approached others about the problem, they are instructed to stay silent,” she added.
“The fact is that most of the sexual abuse happens at home and this is missing from the debate.”
Asad Iqbal Butt, the vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, presented some figures showing that in 80 percent of the reported cases, the abusers were close family members.
"The general lack of expression in our society manifests itself in different forms. What remains bottled up in people then expresses itself in heinous acts," he said, pointing out that the problem permeated every strata and class of the society.

Abortion as a right
Renowned gynecologist Dr Shershah Syed, from his experience narrated cases where he had had to provide medical assistance to girls impregnated by their fathers or paternal or maternal uncles.
Though he contended that the law protected a medical practitioner for performing an abortion under special circumstances, Dr Mehnaz disagreed insisting that it did not allow abortion for a raped child.
The senior doctor argued that the application of the law favoured a medical practitioner who could use their discretion, but Dr Mehnaz claimed that abortion was only allowed if the birth of a child posed any threat to the health of the mother.

What to do
Dr Mehnaz called for the government establishing immediate mechanisms for addressing the needs of sexual abuse victims.
Asad Iqbal Butt of the HRCP called for improving investigation and professional capabilities of police so timely medical examination and its subsequent result could provide evidence to land an abuser in jail.
He added hat this should be supplemented not just with therapy and counselling, but also monetary compensation to the victims.
However, Dr Khan noted that all of this would only be possible if the curtain of culture was unveiled in the society and that could be done only through education.
“The government has declared a war on terrorism. The crisis of education is the root of all ills in the society, be it governance or terrorism, and needs to be tackled with just as much enthusiasm with which a war is fought,” he added.
“We need to invest heavily in education now to be able to reap the results after at least two generations.”