Pakistanis silent on terror of child rape
IN THE Lahore Children's Hospital, a seven-year-old girl from Sargodha who was raped lies in critical condition.
According to doctors, the injuries sustained by the child on the lower part of her body are so severe that they have become infected. The infection, called septicemia or sepsis, has spread through her body and may not respond to antibiotics. And so, another child of Pakistan lies at death's door in a society that knows no accountability, particularly for its weakest members.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the rape of children was deemed deserving of some outrage, even if it was of the usual perfunctory Pakistani sort.
Last year, when a little girl was kidnapped outside her house, raped and then left near a hospital, many raised their voices against the grotesque nature of the crime. Since then, it seems, this evil too has become absorbed in the fabric of apathy that allows Pakistanis to witness and then ignore what, to a normal society, would be cause for deep disturbance and alarm.
A SPATE OF CASES
A number of child rapes have been reported in just the past couple of months.
Early last month, the body of a six-year-old boy was found in a mosque. According to reports, the boy had been raped repeatedly before his body was abandoned. A man who had gone to the mosque to pray said that he had seen the boy's body and told the mosque administration about it. Among the people who are being investigated is the mosque's chief cleric.
The same month, a seven-year-old girl was found raped and stoned to death, according to news reports. Similarly, in November, a five-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped in the Islampura area of Lahore. This incident is said to have taken place in a school.
Schools and mosques are thus all unsafe for Pakistan's children, and so are the streets, particularly for the kids who live on them.
Last year, Streets Of Shame, a documentary focusing on the street children of Peshawar, revealed just how precarious and devoid of innocence their existence is.
Numbering over a million, these street children live at the mercy of pimps and handlers who rent them out. Nine out of 10 street children are believed to have been sexually abused.
The truck drivers who ply the highways in their brightly coloured vehicles are said to be the instruments of the terror inflicted on them. According to numbers quoted in the documentary, 95 per cent of truck drivers admitted that having intercourse with a young boy was one of their favourite pastimes during rest breaks.
In the words of human rights lawyer Zia Awan: "This is happening everywhere, in the big cities, small cities, in the villages and towns."
It should come as little surprise, then, that children are being raped and their bodies dumped on roofs and at trash heaps and open fields all around Pakistan. Horrible consequences for surviving victims are not unusual either, when others discover they have been raped .
In the documentary, when the older brother of a young boy learns that his brother was gang-raped, the older boy declares that this is "his own sin" and that he would have burned the younger boy alive if he had found out. The blame for rape, even if the victim is a child, is squarely on the victim. Instead of catching the culprits, society deems it correct to eliminate the person who has already suffered.
The law helps accomplish the task. In late 2010, the Federal Shariat Court declared that the provisions of the Women's Protection Act of 2006, which prevented rape victims from being prosecuted for adultery or fornication under the Zina and Hudood Act of 1979, were unconstitutional. In its judgments, the court declared that Sections 11, 28 and 29 of the Act attempted to "override" the provisions of the Zina and Hudood ordinance. Parliament was given until June 2011 to pass new provisions, but it never did.
Since the horrific attack on the Army Public School in December, much is being said about the country's responsibility to its youngest and most vulnerable. Every now and then, this new resolve is featured in pictures and articles in which children from this or that school are seen learning drills so that they know what to do when their school faces a terror attack.
Children in various provinces have been taught first aid, how to evacuate buildings and even to use firearms, lest they have to take on attackers themselves.
The lessons of Peshawar have been that in a society riven with terror, innocence is a luxury that a Pakistani child cannot afford; guns are everywhere - children may as well learn to use them.
TURNING A BLIND EYE
The terror of rape, however, is the unspoken scourge that no one is willing to acknowledge and whose taint is so great as to render victims, even when they are children, utterly worthless in the eyes of a Pakistan that otherwise professes to love them.
No school, no mosque and no madrasah in the country has programmes against child sexual abuse or discusses self-defence strategies that children could use against the predators who lurk all around them. Perhaps, secretly, Pakistan has already concluded that these children simply do not have a chance.
If this is true, the girl battling for her life against septicemia at the Lahore Children's Hospital is already doomed, perhaps better off dead than living in a country that could not care less about her ordeal.
DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.