The rape and murder of Zainab Ansari, a seven-year-old Pakistani girl, have shocked the country. People demand justice for the girl’s family, but there isn’t much discussion on the issue of child protection in Pakistan.
The country is in a state of shock, with social media flooded with messages of solidarity with Zainab’s family and anger at the provincial government of Punjab. Vigils and demonstrations are being held in all major Pakistani cities.
She was the 12th child to have been found raped and murdered in Kasur city of Punjab province over the past year, according to a police official anonymously quoted by AFP news agency.
This was, however, not an isolated event, as over 720 incidents of such nature have been reported from Kasur in the last three years.
In August 2015, Kasur came to the world’s attention via a child abuse and extortion scandal involving at least 280 children who were filmed while being sexually abused by a gang of men. The men then blackmailed the children’s parents by threatening to release the videos. The scandal sparked countrywide condemnation and anger against authorities.
According to reports, out of 12 children abducted and raped in past one year in Kasur only one has survived the barbarity.
On Thursday, the body of a 15-year-old girl, who was allegedly raped and murdered, was found in the city of Sargodha, Pakistan’s Dunya News TV and Dawn newspaper reported.
According to a report released by Sahil, an NGO, as many as 11 cases of child sexual abuse are reported from across Pakistan on a daily basis– from January to June 2017, 62 percent were reported from Punjab; 27 percent of cases reported were from Sindh province.
Renowned TV anchorman Nadeem Malik of Samaa tweeted: “the Govt. turned blind eye to 2015 and 2016 child abuse scandals, which resulted in fresh tragedy in Kasur.”
After every incident of child (both male and female) abuse, the debate in Pakistan focuses on the government’s inefficiency to act against the perpetrators of the crime. What is missing from the discussion is the larger issue of child protection in Pakistan.
Maria Rashid, an Islamabad-based psychologist and rights activist, says, “Children are vulnerable to sexual abuse all over the world. In Pakistan, the dynamics that make them vulnerable are two-fold: impunity for perpetrators, which is reflective of the overall weak and easily manipulated criminal justice system compounded by low priority given to crimes of this nature by authorities; taboos around issues related to sexuality and the tendency to confuse child protection information with sex education as a result of which children are vulnerable to sexual violence and predators,” Rashid underlined while speaking to DW.
While cases of brutal murders and rapes of minors often catch people’s attention, domestic sexual abuse of children, which activists say is widespread in Pakistan, is generally a tabooed topic in the country.
“A larger number of survivors of child sexual abuse suffer in silence as they do not have the language to describe what is happening to them. Zainab’s case is just the tip of the iceberg,” Rashid said.
“Child abuse takes place in almost all parts of Pakistan. Kasur has been in the spotlight because such cases were reported there in the past,” Manizeh Bano, director of the non-governmental organization Sahil, told DW.
“Kasur is particularly exposed to such crimes because child labor is also rampant in the city. Those involved in abusing children feel they can get away with their crimes,” Bano added.
Women rights activist Mumtaz Mughal says the government wakes up to such cases when they are reported in the media, but hasn’t done anything to introduce legislation and mechanism to prevent child abuse.
Pakistani rights activists say they had put forward a number of suggestions to the government after the 2015 child abuse scandal in Kasur, but authorities haven’t implemented them.
“Finding Zainab’s killers must be an important priority for authorities, especially as in this case it seems that this is not a lone incident in this area and other children are at risk,” activist Maria Rashid noted.
“Sadly, after initial media hype and response to rape and child abuse cases by state authorities, people forget about them. There is no long-term redressal of the issue and it is treated more as an anomaly rather than a widespread problem that needs to be tackled at various levels and through sustained effort,” she stressed.