By Dr Ilmana Fasih
August 12, 2015
While returning back from Karachi to Toronto in May 2015, I was sandwiched in the middle seat, in a long haul PIA flight.
Conversation was natural when there were three Canadian Pakistanis returning from one home to another. After the usual introductions to individuals on both sides, the conversation gravitated to the then current trending topic, the sex-education curriculum that was being introduced in Ontario schools.
The gentleman sitting at the aisle remarked,
“I had gone to Pakistan to explore how to settle my children back in Punjab.”
He asked again,
“How old are your children?”
“My children are in universities,” I replied.
“You are lucky they are all grown up. My children are still in the primary and middle schools.”
After an uneasy pause, he asked again,
“Are you aware of the sex-ed curriculum being introduced in Ontario?”
“Yes, I have read it in detail and find it useful and appropriate.”
“Really? But we are very upset at the way the liberal government is trying to impose values which are contrary to our religion and culture?”
My eyes got wider.
“Can you explain what about sex-ed is contrary to our values and religion?”
“Madam, don’t you know, they will teach about private parts to first graders. They want to take our children’s innocence away.”
The woman who was sitting on the window seat interjected,
“Have you read in what context they are teaching private parts to first graders?”
He had no clue, but he was convinced it was for an ulterior motive.
“See, we also grew up in Pakistan maintaining our innocence till we got ‘Baaligh’ (puberty). They are just corrupting the innocent minds and making them mature faster. I have decided to send my children and wife back to Pakistan next September.”
The lady next to me began,
“My friend was attending a parent-teacher conference last month, and the family sitting ahead of them were arguing with the teacher against sex-ed curriculum, when their seven-year-old daughter broke down, saying how her uncle who lives in the house touches her inappropriately.”
In agreement, I continued,
“Exactly. Sex-ed curriculum in Ontario is to empower the children so they can identify when someone is being inappropriate with them, and how they can defend themselves. To be very honest, the real problem is in its name. I wish the curriculum had been named more subtly.
And I’m sure you are well aware that children of any age are vulnerable, and majority of the perpetrators are known to the family. It remains a fact that more than 90 per cent of the kids fall prey to the lust of their own known uncles, cousins, fathers, brothers, friends, neighbours and in their own homes. We do not know how many children undergo abuse, but the numbers are staggering, almost one in three by some studies. Vast majority of children are too afraid to report to their parents, out of fear of reprisals and that the parents will not believe them.
This is common world over, despite strict legislation. Hence, the government has felt the need to include it in the curriculum to empower children against sexual abuse from early age. We in Ontario must feel fortunate that our children will be taught to protect themselves. Since you will be taking your children to Pakistan, I feel compelled to inform you that Pakistan is no exception. Sexual abuse of children exists there too and perhaps in many horrifying forms unknown to us. There are many things which apparently look non-existent there simply because they are not reported, but they do exist and rather flourish under the carpet.
“What is wrong with sexual abuse is not being exposed, but staying hidden and quietly damaging the mind, self-esteem and the entire life of the victim. Abused children grow up carrying the trauma of the devastating experience.”
I think I continued my lecture intermittently all through the remaining flight.
With the devastating news of the Kasur child abuse case coming to light, the conversation that I had in the airplane is haunting and reverberating in my ears. It has only become apparent that not only is the sexual abuse of children existent, but it is also being used by criminals as a tool for black mail and extortion. Also obvious is the fact that the menace is not just limited to individual perpetrators, but there exists a local systemic support through local police officials and political bigwigs. The mere thought is spine chilling.
There is a huge outcry against the Kasur case, especially on TV channels and social media, demanding investigation and bringing culprits to justice. However, there is also a dire need to simultaneously demand creation of strong legislation which is implemented over and above political and religious influence so that the victims can report fearlessly. There is also a dire need for the creation of a substructure to support the victims professionally and with complete confidentiality. At the same time, it is equally important that we empower our children so that they could protect themselves and prevent sexual exploitation and abuse.
Not sure if the gentleman who I met is actually taking his children back to Pakistan to save them from the ‘sex-education’ curriculum, but I hope and pray that this incident makes him see the reality, and realise that education is empowerment while ignorance is not innocence.
Pakistan is a young nation. About 40 per cent of population consists of minors. There should be powerful institutions in every corner of Pakistan which should protect the rights of children.
The Kasur case must be an eye opener. But it is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many forms of sexual, physical and psychological abuse that children are subjected to.
If we save our children from all forms of abuse, we will save the future of Pakistan.
How I wish we can all unite for the sake of our children and rise to demand the creation of a culturally appropriate school curriculum in Pakistan where self-protection of children from sexual predators is considered mandatory, and teaching it is not seen as contrary to our religious or cultural values.
Is anyone from the 180 million Pakistanis listening?
An Indian gynaecologist, married to a Pakistani, Ilmana is a health activist, and m-Health entrepreneur, who writes on social and health issues as a passion. She dreams of a world without borders and wars.