By: Abdul Rasool Syed
And, how to root out the menace
Following the horrific killing of six-year-old, flower-like kid Zainab who was abducted, deflowered and brutally strangled to death; many other similar incidents have been reported in the media almost every day. The frequency of reporting of these events suggests that the menace of paedophilia is growing at an exponential rate in our society. It is quite disgusting and, undoubtedly, a great shame for our society as a whole. This alarming surge in sexual abuse of children reflects that these innocent beings are extremely vulnerable. Paedophiles, who without shadow of a doubt are the scum of the earth, easily prey on our loved ones with impunity. Such beasts must be exterminated and the society should be cleansed of them. If they go on with their illicit activities, they will be jeopardizing the life and honour of our innocent children. Therefore, all the stakeholders i.e. parents, children and the society as a whole, should make a common cause against these bestial elements in the guise of humans so as to make our society a safe place for our kids.
World Health Organisation (WHO) defines paedophilia as the involvement of a child in a sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent or that violates the laws or social taboos of the society.
After learning the definition, let’s now debunk certain myths attached to paedophilia in our society.
One of the myths attached to paedophilia is that the paedophiles are mostly strangers to children. It is altogether a misguided opinion. According to a research, conducted by some credible NGOs, 47 percent of the perpetrators are relatives, 43 percent are acquaintances and merely 7 percent are strangers. Hence, it is wrong to advise kids of being cautious of the strangers only. They should also stay equally careful in their dealings with familiar people as well because the abuser can be anyone i.e. the siblings, a step-parent, the grandparents, the teachers, the neighbours, the servants, cousins, uncles, aunts, etc., in fine, all those people a child interacts with in his/her social domain. That’s why parents need to keep an eagle eye on all those people who share proximity with their children. Parents should trust none in this regard.
Moreover, it is also a myth that only girls are the victims of sexual abuse. Boys are also equally vulnerable. Therefore, the homogenous protective measures are required for the protection of both the sexes.
In addition, it is also a wrong perception that mostly the children belonging in economically disadvantaged section of the society become easy prey of the paedophiles. Sexual abuse is beyond socioeconomic barriers or the class segregation. Comparatively, the children of the privileged class are more at risk than those belonging to the less privileged class as they are surrounded by servants even in the absence of their parents. A large number of cases bear testimony to the fact that children of well-to-do families were molested by their own servants i.e. drivers, chefs, security guards, maids, etc.
Now, the questions that arise here are: how we can put an end to this social ill, and what legal and social remedies are available to nip this social malady in the bud. To answer these, a multi-pronged, holistic strategy is required. Following is the mention of socio-legal blueprint to rid our society of this menace.
On social front, we should narrow down the parent-children communication gap as much as possible, enabling thereby our children to discuss their issues and share their fears with us with full confidence. We should ask our kids to keep us informed about their day-to-day activities e.g. who are their friends, what they do, what are their hobbies, etc. For this, we the parents should take some time out of our hectic schedules for our children in order to make them feel that we are with them. In addition, we must also provide our children with exclusive attention, solicitude and counselling. In this way, they would feel a sense of protection and solace and with the passage of time; the parent-children trust deficit would wither away and they would resume confiding in us with no fear of admonishment and bullying.
Besides, children should also be sensitized about the birds and the bees (sex education); if not in detail, then to the extent that they may distinguish between a good touch and a bad touch, to say the least. For this, teachers at school and parents at home should actively play their respective roles.
On legal front, we find that legislation has been made to tackle the issue of sexual abuse of children but its enforcement is still seriously wanted. The majority of such cases are registered under the Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979, that prohibits all kinds of illegal sexual intercourse including rape. Apart from that, the Sindh Children Act, 1955, and the Punjab Children Ordinance (of 1983) also cover some aspects of the crime.
Interestingly, after the revelation of the existence of a child pornography racket in Kasur, as many as 20 people were nabbed by the police. By that time, child pornography was not criminalized in Pakistan; only sodomy and rape were the crimes punishable under the law. Consequently, several other provisions were added to our laws in order to further strengthen the child protection framework.
The first amendment made to the Pakistan Penal Code in 2016 with regard to sexual abuse of children criminalized sexual assault against minors, child pornography and trafficking. Sexual assault is now punishable with up to seven years in prison (previously only rape was crime) and child pornography (previously not included in law) is punishable with seven years.
As mentioned earlier, laws that can help arrest the shameful growth of this crime do exist; the need of the hour is to implement the already enacted laws, in letter and spirit. Moreover, special legislation is also required as the situation demands. Like the case of Zainab, all cases of sexual violence against children should be tried in anti-terrorism courts so that they are prosecuted with same vigilance and expedition as the cases of terrorism are. Additionally, DNA profile of all the citizens should be included in the database of NADRA; it will help us detect the culprits easily as it did in the case of Zainab.
Last but not least, extremely strict punishments should be awarded to the perpetrators of this heinous crime. The exemplary verdict given by the Antiterrorism Court that handed Imran, the savage rapist-cum-killer of innocent Zainab and eight other innocent girls, four counts of death sentence, one lifetime imprisonment and 4.1 million in fine has earned countrywide plaudits. Even the parents of the victim expressed satisfaction over the decision but the popular demand of public execution of the culprit was reiterated by the mother of Zainab specifically and the public generally. Therefore, the legislature after making required amendments to the law should capitulate to the call of masses.
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