PAKISTAN: An 8 year old girl was raped by Imam of a mosque – no end in sight for child sexual abuse

An eight years old girl, Miss N (real name withheld), who is the daughter of Meer Muhammud, from Golrachi Village, in the Badin District of Sindh Province has been raped by a religious leader in the mosque. Her Quran teacher, Imam Khameesa, someone who is also a local mosque leader, reportedly raped her on 25 October.

The unfortunate incident occurred inside the madressah of the mosque, when, at around 2 p.m., the mosque leader Imam Khameesa let off other pupils and asked Miss N to stay back. When the other children left, Khameesa allegedly raped the hapless child.

N was so scared that she didn’t tell anyone about the incident. After two days, as she continued to bleed, and upon being probed by her mother, N revealed the details of crime she had been subject to. Her father immediately took her to the Civil Hospital Badin, where the medico-legal report confirmed rape.

Fortunately, upon complaint to the police, Imam Khameesa was immediately arrested. According to the victims’ father, the local police are cooperating with him and have also registered an FIR against the rapist.

Sodomy and rape inside mosques and religious seminaries are increasingly being reported. The cases, however, generally go unreported, particularly in the cases of sodomy. As parents jealously guard their daughters and do not allow them to go outside the house, sexual predators find boys an easy target.

About 50% of the population is living below the poverty line in Pakistan. Many parents in Pakistan are unable to afford the fees of even government schools, resulting in 25 million children out of school, according to official figures. Many of these out of school children are sent to madressahs for religious education; many of these children are not safe from being sexually exploited.

Children in Pakistan form the most vulnerable faction of the society. Pakistan perhaps is the only nation in the world that is actively denying a majority of its future generations the right to health, education and dignity. Around 90% of the 170,000 street children in Pakistan are subjected to the sex trade, and it is estimated that only 20% of sexual abuse cases are reported. Though Article 25 (3) of the Constitution mandates the Federal government to make special provisions to protect the rights of women and children, this group is left vulnerable.

Child sexual abuse has always been brushed under the carpet in this conservative society. However, when the Kasur incident surfaced, wherein videos of hundreds of children being sexually abused and videographed by their abusers, the whole Pakistani society went into collective denial. The police tried to downplay the seriousness of the crime by claiming it to be a result of political rivalry.

The sheer number of victims is shocking. Many of the victims are underage boys who later became perpetrators themselves. The incident sent shockwaves around the world. Local and international media extensively covered the incident and a few of the culprits were arrested. Many political figures associated with abetting the gang of rapists and extortionists were, however, allowed to go scot free because of their clout. The gang had been active since 2009 and it wasn’t till the video of molestations and abuse surfaced in 2015 that the world got to know of the crimes. For six years the gang molested 380 children and extorted money from their families.

Child abuse in Pakistan has reached an alarming stage and is adversely affecting individuals, their families, as well as the whole society. There is a dearth of laws and bodies to check such incidents and rehabilitate victims. The number of child abuse cases is increasing because there is no concrete policy or plan of action to curb such cases. After the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed by Parliament in 2010, all attempts by the Federal government to improve the quality of life of children have fallen by the wayside, a fact evident in the 2014 State of Children in Pakistan Report.

Punjab police data shows that in the first six months of 2015, 577 sodomy and 45 hurt cases were reported in the Province alone. It has also been reported that 239 children were kidnapped, while 10 children were abducted for ransom during the same period. As many cases go unreported, for fear of family dishonour, the number is the tip of the iceberg

Being a conservative and sexually repressed society, many parents feel uncomfortable discussing sexual abuse with children. Resultantly, these children become victims of sexual exploitation unknowingly. The perpetrators thus easily abuse children, taking advantage of their naivety. Besides improving laws and empowering authorities to put a check on child abuse, the capacity building of parents and teachers is also equally important so awareness can spread amongst society and as a result children can be protected.