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Taboo of child abuse [The Nation] 03 May, 2017

What a beautiful child molester, if only I was a child. This note is not a direct attack on HumTv, their award ceremony, or on Yasir Hussain’s comment, following Ahsan Khan’s win in the Best Actor category for drama serial ‘Udaari’.

It merely seeks to question the obvious. When will we, as a nation, remove the taboo surrounding the issue of child abuse, and work collectively to eradicate it? It is you and I, members of this community, that are wholly to blame. Our insensitivity and immaturity towards firstly, recognising one of the biggest issues of our country, and secondly, unifying to address the issue itself, has led us to our current state. When it comes to child sexual abuse in Pakistan, we are either silent, apathetic or ignorant.

‘Udaari’ created a lot of awareness by highlighting the issue of child molestation. The serial shed some much needed light on the area, and subtly urged it’s viewers to speak out, and act against it. Udaari took a bold step by drawing attention to a step-father’s abuse of a child in a rural village. The show met with a lot of resistance and was even issued a notice by the Pemra (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) for containing inappropriate content and an immoral story line.

However, it’s efforts now seem to be all but in vain. In a report published by Sahil, a non-governmental organisation, 4,139 cases of child sexual abuse were registered in 2016. This figure itself showed an increase of 10 percent from the previous year. Around 51 percent of these registered cases belonged to the age group of 0-15 years. In the same year, Sahil recorded 176 cases of reported child marriages.

According to the same report, abusers were shown to “trap children by showing love, offering gifts, eventually relating it to a favour”. The significance of this definition is that children are mostly abused at the hands of their acquaintances. It is very easy to convince a vulnerable and young mind that the act being performed on them is not to be perceived as inappropriate or wrong. Statements such as the one in question, have the same effect on these minds, convincing them that it is not out of the ordinary to be treated in this manner.

The problem lies at a grass root level. A failure to recognise the topic as a prevalent horror in our society has only contributed to the ever growing number of child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan. In order to curb the problem and stop it from getting out of hand, various steps need to be taken in a timely manner.

Social, cultural, and domestic norms have often delayed the access of justice in similar cases. Child abuse cases are rarely reported, often due to the high stigma attached to it. Children need to be educated regarding their personal rights to their bodies at a pre-mature stage. In doing so, there is a great role that parents and guardians need to play, to assist them in comprehending the issues at hand.

A legal insight it the subject shows us that there are no explicitly formulated, specialised laws for the prevention of child sexual abuse in Pakistan. According to SPARC, another non-governmental organisation, child sexual abuse is recognised as a form of violence in the Pakistan Penal Code 1860, and as an act of terrorism by the Anti Terrorism Act 1997. Nevertheless, there is still a need for specialised laws on the area, seeking to define the crime, set it’s ambit, and to specify what constitutes it.

Celebrities, by nature of their public standing and influence, bear a greater burden in ensuring that statements they make on public forums are politically correct. Though as humans, we are all bound to make mistakes in life. As long as we realise and understand these mistakes, we should be forgiven for them. At the same time, further care should be taken to ensure that such careless remarks are not mimicked or repeated in the future to minimise the risk of any adverse implications of them.

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