Crime and apathy

Sixty-eight years ago, Pakistan got independence from British colonial rule that led to the partition of the Indian Subcontinent – today (August 14), Pakistanis are celebrating our Independence Day. Every year, the ruling elite (military and/or civilian) pledge to make our country a better place but every year our problems increase. This year, too, things are no different.

One of the most shocking child abuse scandals has recently rocked the country. According to media reports, around 400 videos of child pornography were made involving at least 280 children in Kasur in the Punjab province. Instead of being jolted out of their slumber after this case came to light, the Punjab government, Punjab Police and some sections of our media went into an overdrive to downplay the horrific crime. From saying the actual number of children is less than what has been reported to denying it was child abuse, citing it as a case of homosexuality and consensual sex to mixing it up with a land dispute, the excuses being given to sweep this crime under the rug are shameful.

For a moment, let's assume that the number of children is way less than what has been reported in the media, does it really matter? And how can a minor have 'consensual' sex? Somebody who makes a child indulge in sexual activity is committing a crime. Period. Now let's come to the numbers. Even if one child is sexually abused while being filmed and his/her family is later blackmailed, it should be appalling enough. Numbers do not matter in this case. What matters is our ruling class and society's reaction to child sexual abuse.

If this had happened in any other country in the world, people would have come out on the streets demanding justice for the innocent victims. Here we have only seen the parents of some of the victims out on the streets. Human rights organisations, activists and some in the media are the only ones raising their voice while everyone else is concerned with saving the 'image' of Pakistan. This sort of apathy is why the parents and the victims took years to come forward.

As an editorial ('A tale of horror') in The News puts it: "The suffering of these people needs to be eased. There is only one thing that may reassure them – the shame is not theirs; it is ours as a nation. Whenever there has been a public discussion on high amounts of child sexual abuse in the country, it has been collectively shut up. We can begin to change that today by admitting: ‘shame on us’."

On this Independence Day, Pakistanis should reflect on why we feel no shame when child sexual abuse goes on right under our noses and feel angry when such incidents are highlighted in the media. Why are we so worried about image-building when what we really need to do is ensure that justice is served and these children and their families are provided psychiatric help and therapy? Their scars should be treated as our collective scars. If even our children are not safe from abuse, then there is hardly any point in celebrating our freedom.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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