By Mohammad Malick
27 January, 2012
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is supposed to be a citadel of all that is holy and sacred. It’s a ‘family value’ culture, you know. Unlike the ‘selfish, immoral westerners,’ we live and die for our families and our children. Yet, a child is raped and molested every seven hours here. And this ugly statistic is just the tip of the iceberg and accounts for only reported cases. The actual figure runs many times over.
According to studies, over 60 percent of such cases involve family members and associates. Incest too is a reality but nobody dare talk about it. Married women are dying needless deaths in dingy, secret abortion facilities because nobody is telling them how to live. Young children are being exploited for asking the right questions from the wrong people. We are a nation breeding like rabbits and dying like vermin, but nobody wants to talk about sex. It’s time we did.
A recent seminar ended up giving a peek into the dark world of our confused and lost youth. And considering that 64 percent of the 180 million Pakistanis are under 29 years of age, it’s no laughing matter. We are looking at a future lost to confusing ignorance lest we muster the courage to take this bull of moral hypocrisy by the horns.
It was a room full of promising teenagers and young men and women who in any other civilised polity would have been talking excitedly about their future but here they did not even know how to deal with the emotional and physical changes caused by puberty. I sat in utter shock and disbelief as I saw teary-eyed youngsters narrate their harrowing ordeals; their unnatural sufferings caused by merely asking the most natural of questions. Who could have imagined that even the urban and urbane Pakistani youngster had not learnt to differentiate between the ‘good touch’ and the ‘bad touch.’
Are we languishing in the dark ages?
Scared of the clergy and their mindless flocks, sexual education in Pakistan has already been rechristened as Reproductive Health Education but even then it is not being imparted where it is most needed: to our youth. Even today, this education is not even touching the ‘taboo’ subject of sexuality but merely focusing on the physical aspects of change. Why are we scared to teach our children what they must know?
Our brand of Muslims notwithstanding, Islam itself does not forbid us to teach our children about their bodies and choices. On the contrary, Islam stresses informed and educated choices. I recall the extremely conservative and hardline cleric Mufti Muneeb saying on one of my television programmes that there was nothing wrong in imparting sexual education to our young as long as female students were taught by female teachers and males by men. But in reality, neither is being allowed to do anything on the ground.
A telling example of our moral duplicity became evident in this very gathering as I overheard the remarks of a female parliamentarian from Balochistan who on her way out told a female colleague that she was “shocked by the obscene subjects being discussed.”
Obscene? What happened inside was not obscene my dear lady. What’s obscene is when a young child ends up being sexually molested by a kin or a stranger helping him ‘learn the ropes.’ What is abhorring is not children trying to understand the psychological and physical changes being caused by puberty but a child reaching out to a quack to help quell his ‘sudden unnatural urges’ and end up taking medicines that could have killed him. And these are not hypothetical scenarios but actual tragedies shared by some extremely brave youngsters.
We are not averse to marrying off girls even as young as 10 but consider it blasphemous to educate them about the involved intricacies. At 276 deaths per 100,000 live births, the mother mortality rate in Pakistan ranks amongst the highest in the world. These mothers need not die. An average 900,000 abortions are being carried out annually in Pakistan and most are taking place in illegal unhygienic facilities. Around 13 percent women reportedly die in such abortions. And no, these are not your ‘immoral loose character’ women trying to get rid of their sins.
According to authentic studies, over 99 percent of these hapless women are typically in their thirties, married, mothers of four to five children who simply cannot afford adding another member to the already financially burdened household. Abortion in Pakistan is being used as a contraceptive primarily because the overwhelming majority does not even know how to prevent them in the first instance. Ah, the vagaries of ignorance and criminal social pressures.
Our youth has been subjected to a forced crisis of ignorance harbouring immense psychological and physical consequences. Memogate, NICL, presidential immunity, PM’s volte faces, financial scandals of one ilk or another are what appear to be the priority of the media and the government. Nobody is hearing the silent screams of our young. Does anyone care about the hundreds of thousands of young girls and boys trying to deal with an otherwise simple thing like puberty? Does anyone even fathom the social ramifications of a swarming mass of confused, used, and abused youngsters who would be our next generation of adults? These children do not have access to any credible source of education in such sensitive matters.
Quacks are creating a real mess in the rural areas, while in the urban centres an increasing number of youngsters are turning to the digital abyss of the web to seek answers. Here too, porn sites offer an exaggerated sense of sexuality, which in turn sires a whole new set of complexes and complications.
It’s also incumbent upon the media to play a critical role but unfortunately it has chosen the convenient route of avoiding controversy. Instead of changing the skewered moral standards, it is going with the flow.
In what can only be rationalised as being symptomatic of the overall ignorance and insensitivity, a TV anchor recently led a flock of giggling and jostling women on live TV chasing and hounding young couples in a public park. One lady could be heard sermonising admonishments at a panic-stricken girl while hijab-clad women could be seen high-fiving after chasing away a young couple. Was this self-ordained moral brigade even aware of the fatal consequences of showing young couples on television?
Instead of helping our youth understand and cope with their natural needs we have taken it upon ourselves to impose a sense of guilt and sin on them. Could there be anything more repulsive than such irresponsible journalism, such immoral morality?
A strong argument for sexual education can be built simply on the grounds of the economic crisis caused by the stupendously exploding population, which is waylaying all development and policy initiatives. But that would again be tantamount to eschewing the real issue. Children will be curious and they should be. Questions warrant answers and they must be provided. But learning from equally ignorant peers or prying exploiters is not the way to go.
Enough damage has already been done though we are loath to admit it. After all it is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where nobody drinks, gambling is rare, children are protected and of course incest is an unheard phenomenon.
Source: The News