Child Sexual Abuse in Pakistan

Last year I posted a blog on this subject on my website, wondering what the future held for all those poor children. The problems have not improved.

According to a recent article in the Express Tribune, an Internet newspaper from Pakistan, reports published by the United Nations state that child sex-abuse, a widespread problem in Pakistan, is on the rise at an alarming rate because it has been left largely unchecked due to its ‘sensitive’ nature. The reports state that the issue is especially problematic in the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) region where the surveyed victims did not even realize that sexual abuse was a crime.

I read Internet reports such as these and I shake my head in sorrow that I can do so little about something that matters so much to me. We have one Lamplighter chapter in Pakistan but it is in Islamabad and Karachi, where the largest percentage of child sexual abuse happens, is many miles away on the coast of the Arabian Sea. How much can one man do? What can one woman do? And today we have thousands of men and women trying to combat this problem with so little progress to show.

The reasons for child sexual abuse running rampant in this area are almost as many as there are stories. We tend to think that child sexual abuse in Pakistan is high  because of street children, runaways, children who are caught up in sex trafficking. In Karachi 170,000 children live on the streets. Ninety percent of them have been sexually abused.

However, the upper class in Pakistan is not exempt. I have read stories about children being left with trusted family servants, family servants who betrayed that trust, tying one of the small children to a chair while he molested the other child, a young girl barely of school age. I have heard of children being abused by family members, stories of fathers who, upon finding out that a servant was molesting his son dealt with the sex offender, then took the boy out for ice-cream and told him, “Son, don’t mention this incident again,” and many other stories. Many of these children don’t even know what is happening to them. No one gave them a class on how to protect your children. Mothers who find out their daughters were sexually abused threaten them with punishment if they don’t remain silent. They are afraid they will not be able to get a good marriage proposal if their daughter’s reputation is ruined.

Saadia Parvez, an American educated psychotherapist who has specialized in trauma is currently counseling at a renowned school in Pakistan. Many parents refuse to send their children to her school workshops, where children are taught how to protect their body spaces. “Her experience shows that families where members of the household share at least one family meal every day are 60% less likely to have children who will suffer from some form of prolonged abuse. A strong family structure creates the right space to give children the confidence to communicate with their parents openly.” Ultimately, it is the parents’ role that is crucial.* We must have healthy families to grow healthy children. This remains a multi-generational family problem.

What is the government in Pakistan doing about this? They have a Child Protction Policy whose vision is stated as: “To promote and create a protective environment for all children which ensures their protection against all forms of violence, abuse, discrimination, neglect and exploitation.”

“The International Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has the right to have name, nationality, and protection of his/her identity. Birth registration is an important means of protection of these rights. Unfortunately, birth registration is not common in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), only 1% of the children below 5 years of age have got their birth registration. Around 5.6% of birth registration has been made in urban areas.” (Grammatical and spelling errors shown are contained in their  policy) It is astonishing that 87.3% have not even heard of birth registration at all.

No wonder they have so many problems with child abuse. The government of Pakistan may have a policy in place to protect their children but it appears to be only lip service.  Ask those 170,000 children who live on the streets what they think of their Child Protction Policy.

*Published in the Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 6th, 2013

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