By Shabana Mahfooz
20 Octoberber 2018
The path to be taken
Autumn has arrived. In some, though not all parts of the country, cooler winds are blowing. Early mornings and late nights can be pleasant to chilly. It was one such mildly cool morning this month, when Imran Ali was hanged to death in Lahore. It was a much colder night early this year, when he had brutally assaulted and then murdered Zainab in her hometown, Kasur.
Zainab was six. She was a victim of child abuse – not the first and not the last. But there was something about Zainab, which when lost, brought the most of emotions in the nation; despair, shock, anger, repulse, emptiness. These pent up emotions burst out and pounded doors of justice across the country. Her parents vowed not to give up until their daughter’s death was avenged. It eventually has been, but what next?
Zainab’s case triggered a public debate and under public pressure, the then government promised increased police training and legislation. But with Zainab’s tormentor gone to the gallows and a tragic tale put to a gruesome end, what happens to the statements of intent?
While Zainab’s murderer was still being frantically sought, other young girls – and boys, continued to be raped, abused, murdered. As Zainab’s abuser was sentenced to death, other innocent victims were dying in obscurity. Like Zainab’s, many poor girls’ ravaged bodies were heartlessly tossed in heaps of garbage.
here have been several similar child murders in the past two years in Kasur. A child rights NGO, Sahil, has gathered statistics claiming that as many as 2,300 cases of crimes against children were reported during the first six months of the current year alone. In 57 of these cases, children were killed after being raped.
Pakistan tightened its legislation to protect children in 2016 — criminalising sexual assault, child pornography and trafficking for the first time, after a paedophile ring, circulating pornographic videos, was exposed in Kasur, Zainab’s hometown.
Today, would Zainab be smiling in heaven, that her murderer has finally been sentenced to death for killing her innocence, or would she be more sad, that his hanging may have again brought back memories to the day when her life was cut abruptly short by a sadist?
In April 2017, Pakistan Penal Code was amended through Criminal law Second Amendment Act 2016 to address child abuse. Through this amendment, punishments have been enhanced for the crimes against child.
But legislation is for those who are reported and nabbed after a crime and it is not unknown in Pakistan that cases languish waiting for justice to be imparted. Even the unbiased and unanimous decision of capital punishment for Zainab’s murderer will gradually fade from memory. The real achievement would be to nab the twisted mindset which leads certain men to commit such heinous crimes.
This reality check begs consideration to deal with the core issue: the sick, rotten mentality of a large majority of Pakistani men — who see women and innocent children as mere objects of pleasure, who love to see fear in the eyes of their victims and themselves have no fear for they strongly believe that the law of the jungle rules in Pakistan, who obviously have no shame or regret over their actions.
After Zainab was murdered, the Punjab government decided to introduce child protection curriculum in every educational institute of the province, including supplementary material based on injunctions of the Holy Quran. It launched a 24-point booklet Pakeza Zindagi regarding safety of children to be distributed among teachers and parents. Some private schools, in Punjab and Sindh, took measures to introduce sex education in their curriculum.
But while the educated debate on the necessity of sex education, it is the uneducated masses where the root cause of the problem lies and hence makes it more crucial there for these lessons to be imparted. Many of the madrassahs or religious schools in the country conduct only Arabic and Quran lessons, with no in-depth understanding of the religion, neither any formal education. The schools, with some crossing the fine line and breeding terrorists in the name of jihadists by promising them houris in heaven as if the visa entry in heaven and supply contract of virgins lay in their hands, have since long, remained the hub of child abuse. Some of the scholars also bearing the brunt of this crime in their adolescence, turn on to the next generation. Fortunately, the country’s Council of Islamic Ideology has also agreed in essence that sex education should be imparted. But practically, much more needs to be done.
The execution of Imran Ali is not the end of the story. One chapter may have been closed, but others are awaiting attention. This is not a case solved, it was merely the tip of the iceberg. The menace of child abuse in our country should be aimed to be removed through tight legislation as well as widespread education.
Today, would Zainab be smiling in heaven, that her murderer has finally been sentenced to death for killing her innocence, or would she be more sad, that his hanging may have again brought back memories to the day when her life was cut abruptly short by a sadist? Would she be angry, that since then, her parents may not have slept in peace, or would she feel relieved, that her parents’ anguish may have somewhat lessened, after the murder convict was released from the shackles of a miserable life and some justice was imparted.
We do not know. But what we know is that there are many more Zainabs, still alive, still unaware of the dangers lurking outside. We need to protect them. We need to stop the other Imrans. One Zainab is gone and so is an Imran. Now it is time to save others.
Shabana Mahfooz is a broadcast journalist and freelance writer. She has keen interest in issues concerning women, religion and foreign affairs.