Pakistan is, unfortunately, among those countries where child pornography is rampant. Various networks of child pornographers are active in the country. Many do it for profit, sometimes in liaison with groups from other nations who buy the material. But there is a large number of child pornographers who operate without large profits. Owners of internet cafes, located across the country, testify that child pornography is viewed most often at their enterprises.
This raises an important question: why are we not making a serious attempt to deal with the issue and to free children from the terrible burden of abuse that they face at the hands of paedophiles? Many people in fact pay no heed to this crime at all, even when it is occurring within their homes or neighbourhoods. Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari once told parliament that Pakistan was indeed the largest consumer of child pornography in the world. Over the years, the FIA cybercrime wing has closed down tens of thousands of websites that depicted child pornography in various forms.
In some cases – as in the Kasur case – child abuse videos are made to prevent parents from reporting the crime. The penalty for child pornography is at least seven years in jail and a fine of one million rupees. But this is not enough to prevent child pornography or to deal with it in a civilised and adequate manner.
Our country prides itself on its morality. But this morality consists of the patriarchal treatment of women, with men free to dictate how women should act, what they should wear, how they should behave, and even what careers they should follow – or if they should work at all. This is the story of virtually every household in the country.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, around 80 percent of all women in Pakistan suffer abuse of one kind or another – emotional or psychological. Why are we not concerned about these problems? Also, it is true that sometimes we do not recognise child abuse images as pornography, even though they may show a small child in a situation which would arouse sexual desire in a person.
Instead, our authorities have decided it best to police scenes of intimacy, or the images of a couple on TV caressing, as a means to deal with the ‘moral decay’ the country faces. Is there anything immoral about a couple embracing on television? Even under our somewhat medieval laws, is there any harm in it? Is there any harm in depicting to families, including children, that there should be love and care in every household?
The crackdown we see from time to time by the police, and sometimes private guards, in parks who question young couples taking a walk in the park is also an idea of our contorted and twisted morality. There is no law against two people walking together or going out for a social encounter, and it certainly does not count as adultery is against the law.
There is a need to alter what we see as ‘immorality’ and wrongful doing within our society. The government and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) appear to have cracked down on the wrong laws. The idea of a ban on children under the age of 18 marrying has been opposed in some places, and we still hear of cases where girls as young as nine or 10 – or perhaps even younger – have been sold to men old enough to be their grandfathers because the family is too poverty-ridden to provide for them and to keep them safe. This is true immorality. This is the crime we should be dealing with and the crime that should attract the attention of the state.
Also, it is surprising that a crime like child pornography draws little attention and is only highlighted occasionally – for example Dr Shireen Mazari bringing up the issue. Parliament should be discussing the issue in a more serious manner, given that our country has such high levels of child pornography and a high count of views of child pornography on the internet, which can only further immorality in one way or the other.
It is interesting that these activities are not thought of as a crime in the same way as adultery or other actions by adult women are seen in our society. This goes back to feminist writers from the 1960s who suggest that an adult woman can choose – and is doing so – by her own will and is therefore labelled an evil creature for engaging in such behaviour since she can exercise her agency while a child cannot. However, the point we come back to is the desperate need to curb the presence of child pornography on the internet and to deal with groups that use it as a business and film videos to be sold overseas. Harsh punishments are needed, and, at the same time, we need to protect our children better.
This is true both within and outside households. The case of the 12-year-old girl, evidently raped and then murdered by her own father, after which she was dumped at an under-construction Metro station toilet in Islamabad, is the latest evidence of what happens behind the closed doors of households – the places that are thought to be safe for women and children. The idea that a woman should not leave her home is one reason why there are so many restrictions on their movement and on their right to enjoy the same liberties as men of the same age and in the same situation do.
The relevant authorities need to pay far greater attention and make bigger efforts to limit child pornography. No child should be subjected to abuse. This goes without saying. At the same time, nations and their governments must make a real attempt to understand what morality is rather than making laws of their own. The decree in Afghanistan that women on television must cover their heads and other instances where some women who went out without a mahram were stopped and questioned are in fact immoral.
It takes away the rights of women and leads to the ignoring of such ‘immorality’ which occurs in that country as much as in ours, such as the abuse and rape of small children – both boys and girls. Unfortunately, these events are now considered as almost the norm in our society.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.
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