With the obscurity around sexual abuse in Pakistan, the insufferable loss of 6-year-old Zainab has aided people to speak up against the dark underbelly of society, where many children, men, and women still hide the abuse they’ve endured.
In just 2016-2017, Sahil revealed that 2410 girls and 1729 boys were victims of sexual exploitation, alone. However, what’s even more staggering about these numbers isn’t just the quantity, but the fact that majority of them have taken place in closed spaces (34% of cases) and households, by people close to the families.
In many incidents, it has been the household domestic staff or people who one lets in each day for various reasons – tutors, maulvis – who have played a role in the abuse. Thus, it was also no surprise when some powerful women from the Pakistani media industry revealed their stories recently and spoke of sexual abuse in their childhood by domestic help or religious teachers (qaris).
Celebrities like actor Nadia Jamil, Maheen Khan, and PR guru Frieha Altaf have come forward with their own childhood experiences of sexual abuse.
“I was sexually abused by our cook at age 6. My parents took action but everyone remained silent as if it was my shame. At 34 I realized how it had impacted my life. The only shame is keeping SILENT,” Frieha Altaf wrote.
Stories of trauma like Frieha or Nadia’s are not new. What is new and intriguing, however, is the fact that people have only now realized that such an issue does occur in the boundaries of one’s own home.
“The Maulvi who came to teach me the Quran abused me sexually. I froze in fear day after day. Share in support of children subjected to the sick acts…by so-called custodians of our religion,” Maheen Khan had written on her Twitter.
The amalgamation of religion and fear being used to create a façade of holiness by such men is what reveals the truth of the society. For how long has the reality of what goes inside madrassas and churches not been talked about, while knowing fully about the unprecedented number of abuse that has gone unreported.
On average, 5 children are abducted every day. Out of the total 199 cases of abduction and child sexual abuse in just 2016, 83% (165) victims were girls and 17% (34) victims were boys and the trend has continued and gotten worse in 2017. With such an alarming rate of abuse where 41% of victims have been murdered after the abduction and sexual abuse, when will we stop waiting for another case like Zainab’s to actually stand up?