Zainab’s rape, murder sparks child sexual abuse debate

KM Chaudary/The Associated Press

 

A minor girl’s rape and murder earlier this month has sent a shock wave across Pakistan. The incident has drawn a wide public outcry, with many celebrities openly talking against child sexual abuse in the South Asian nation.

Zainab Fatima Ameen, a seven-year-old girl from the city of Kasur in central Punjab, was found dead in a rubbish dump after several days of her disappearance. An autopsy revealed she had been brutally abused and strangled to death.

“Seeing the image of her in the trash juxtaposed with the image of her with that smile on her face, it shook me to my core,” said Nadia Jamil, a popular Pakistani actress and philanthropist, who was shaken at the news as it unfolded on social media.

Herself a child abuse survivor, Jamil came forward with the story of her own assault as a four-year old, prompting further conversation on the subject considered taboo in Pakistani society.

Jamil came forward with the story of her own assault as a four-year old [Photo courtesy: Nadi Jamil]

The case of Zainab was the tipping point in a string of similar attacks in the area. Public anger erupted on the streets of Kasur and elsewhere in the country at the inability of the law enforcement agencies to capture and punish the culprits.

Just days after Zainab’s case, another four-year-old girl was abused and strangled to death in the northern district of Mardan.

According to Sahil, a non-government organization working on the problem of child sexual assaults, 1,764 cases of child abuse were reported in the first half of 2017 alone.

In at least 62 of such cases, children were murdered after being sexually abused. In most cases, the attacker was an acquaintance of the victim.

As chilling CCTV footage emerged showing Zainab walking hand in hand with her attacker in her final moments, public discourse shifted from protests to a call for preventive measures to protect all children from sexual abuse.

“Even before the incident, I had been teaching my child about possible child abuse scenarios. I have told her to not talk to strangers and be aware of traps,” said Umair Arif, father of a four-year-old, who joined the protesters in the port city of Karachi.

“I have made her learn our house address and our phone number.”

‘Child Abuse Awareness’

As public voices grew, the government in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, announced plans to introduce “Child Abuse Awareness’ in its curriculum”.

In Pakistan, any discussion on sex, including sex education, is taboo and prompts resistance from the conservative section of the society.

The government has deliberately steered clear of talking about “sex education”, but right-wing political groups have already warned the government against inserting “obscenity” in textbooks in the name of “child abuse awareness”.

“Sex abuse prevention education is a necessity of the day but there should be some checks that obscenity isn’t taught in its name,” Farid Piracha of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, told Al Jazeera. “The purpose should be propagation of ethical and religious lifestyle,” he said.

The government insists it is not going for the westernisation of sexual education.

“We will educate our children about what advances should they stop, obviously it won’t be sex education, but it will be more about the safety measures that can be taken, sort of good touch bad touch kind of learning,” Malik Ahmed Khan, the spokesperson for the Punjab government, told Al Jazeera.

The government in southern Sindh province has also come forward with a plan to implement what it calls “life skills based education” and “child abuse awareness programme” with immediate effect.

The programme which was first launched as a pilot project in collaboration with Aahung – a non-government organisation – will be made part of school curriculum all across Sindh by April 2018.

Questions and doubts

But Arif is concerned as a parent. “I do not trust the education system in Pakistan,” he told Al Jazeera.

While he agrees that child abuse awareness is very important, he is not comfortable with it being taught to children under 10 years of age by ill-trained teachers.

“Children are innocent and my experience with my four-year-old is that if you tell her don’t do something she might be more interested in doing it and that can make the issue worse,” Arif said.

Some parents are also concerned that this might be a glorified version of sex education.

Aisha Ijaz, the programme manager at Aahung said this was not the case. “I wouldn’t say it is sex education. We call it life skills based education. It is tailored to the issues that we see in our society,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Our content was reviewed in 2012 by a group of parents, teachers and even some very progressive religious scholars went through the content and said there is nothing inappropriate about it, it should be taught to young people,” Ijaz told Al Jazeera.

More than just the curriculum

Jamil believes child abuse awareness in schools is “imperative” but greater effort is needed to fight abuse effectively. She was one of the first to share Zainab’s news on social media and has been working with child abuse survivors for years.

“To parents and teachers, I really want to say please talk to children. The world is a frightening place. Teach them how to recognise danger. Be their safe house. Listen to them. Or they will lose their voice,” she said.

Jamil hopes to see deeper understanding of the matter and a more holistic approach in educating children.

“No man is born a rapist. It takes a very dead soul to rape a child,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Teach kindness and empathy and respect of all bodies, of all living things, of all nature. That is where the learning should begin.”

Source :

Aljazeera

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