Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a misconduct in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse in the age group of 6-15 years. Child sexual abuse largely remains unreported, however, the cases reported in 2019 are 348 sodomy cases, 279 rape cases, 210 attempted rape, 205 gang sodomy, 115 gangrape as per record by Sahil a non-governmental organization.
Overall Pakistani society is conservative in which any such incident is considered a stigma on family honor and thus remains unreported. Most of the cases are only reported when they lead to the death of victim. Children become victims of sexual abuse due to various reasons such as lack of sexual education and less or no parental care.
Summarizing the 2017-2019 data, country wide reported cases of child abuse has decreased from 3445 to 2846. On the other side, cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has seen an increase from 2 to 6pc. Sahil, a non-government organization working against child sexual abuse, claims that total of 2846 cases have been reported in newspapers last year which indicates that 8 children are abused every day in Pakistan.
In the past few years there have been few high-profile cases reported which includes Zainab, Haya, Farishta, Shamsuddin and Maha rape and murder cases. The cases resulted in public outcry demanding public hanging of the perpetrators. Extensive media coverage and public protest has resulted in legislation to protect children, the act has been recently passed by the parliament and named as Zainab Act. However, there are still cases being reported continuously from different parts of KP indicating that government and society has a lot to do to control this menace. Let’s, analyze that despite public outcry, government efforts, legislation why child sexual abuse is on rise in KP.
Parents have the foremost responsibility to not only protect their children but also educate them on the issue. However, unfortunately due to various reasons, parents do not equip their children fully against sexual abuse and unwillingly expose their kids to sexual predators. Parents are reluctant to educate their kids regarding good or bad touch due to shyness and conservative nature. In joint family system, parents tend to over trust close relatives who mostly abuse kids taking advantage of the situation and their dominant position. Most of such cases remains unreported and in longer run the victims develop psychological issues. In lower and lower middle class, kids are generally allowed to play or go outside unattended putting them at higher risk to sexual predators. In most of the recent child sexual abuse cases, such kids were mainly targeted.
Other than parents, we as a society, has a responsibility to stop children sexual abuse by identifying sexual predators from their peculiar behavior. We should keep our eyes open to indicators such as grownups unnecessarily touching or talking to a child, a child being taken by someone other than parents to a secluded or place far from home. A little bit more attention to such minor indicators will make a considerable contribution in reducing child sexual abuse, making it more difficult for sexual predator to target a child.
The responsibility of the government does not finish on mere legislation and are required to back up the legislation by effective practical steps. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa child protection and welfare (amendment) bill 2016 has been passed by the provincial assembly of KP on 25 May 2016. According to the bill, the government should make child protection institutions to provide facilities of character development and necessary training to children in order to protect themselves from exploitation. Though Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has established 12 child protection units in different districts of KP, these units are mostly dysfunctional due to lack of funds. Moreover, police investigation in child sexual abuse cases is generally inconclusive and the perpetrators are set free. Police only focus on such cases when they are highlighted by media
Media plays a positive role by extensively reporting and exposing government shortcomings, forcing them to seriously investigate such cases. However, media generally picks up the story after a child has been targeted and mainly remains restricted to highlighting investigation problems. No serious efforts are put in to identify root causes and spread awareness on the issue. Media rarely run any educational programs on child sexual abuse to spread awareness regarding the issue.
In order to control child sexual abuse, we as a society including parents, government and media should act more effectively in our respective domains. Passing of Zainab Act should be a stepping stone in formulating a comprehensive strategy against such crimes. If the act is not followed by practical steps, we will not be able to control the upward trend in this heinous crime.