Sexual abuse of Pakistani children linked to social factors

By Ihsan Qadir
Pakistani citizens, psychologists and social scientists are focusing more attention on the issue of child sex abuse, a scourge that often goes unaddressed in the country. UPI file photo.
Pakistani citizens, psychologists and social scientists are focusing more attention on the issue of child sex abuse, a scourge that often goes unaddressed in the country. UPI file photo.

Dec. 5 LAHORE, Pakistan (UPI Next) --

The Sept. 14 gang rape of a 5-year-old girl in Lahore has shaken Pakistanis, and psychologists and social scientists are citing social factors as a major cause of increasing sexual abuse of children.


Terrorism, inflation, poverty, illiteracy and unemployment are among factors creating frustration among adults, who take it out on children, experts told UPI Next.

Lahore police spokesman Nayab Haider told UPI Next back October that 98 people had been questioned as suspects in the Sept. 14 rape, although no one had yet been charged.

After the rape, hundreds of people across Pakistan, including aid organization workers and ordinary citizens, took to the streets in protest, demanding the arrest of the rapists. Television, radio and newspapers gave the issue widespread coverage.

Psychologist Faqiha Rafi, who runs a private clinic in Lahore, told UPI Next that social disintegration was the major culprit behind such cases.


"When there exists frustration among individuals in society due to inflation, poverty, terrorism or any one of these factors, and there is little chance of entertainment, people will resort to illegal and immoral methods to get pleasure," Rafi said, adding that the same factors are behind Pakistan's population explosion.

Lahore police say 145 cases of adult and child rape, including 32 gang rapes, were reported in the city during an eight-month period this year. The police said they made 108 arrests in those cases, of which 62 were challenged in court and 24 accusations were found to be false.

Child sexual abuse is a serious crime under Pakistani law, with possible punishment of up to life imprisonment. It is not clear whether people are abusing their own children or others', but studies worldwide by doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists dealing with children indicate that in most cases the perpetrators are relatives.

In the media and the public's mind, the Pakistan situation is different from that in India, where a number of rape cases have drawn worldwide attention. The 5-year-old Pakistani girl's rape was the first case in the country to draw widespread public outrage.

Lahore police said they had never kept data on the sex of victims. But Dr. Huzaifa Shah, a specialist in the psychiatry department of Bahawalpur Victoria Hospital in Punjab province who deals with sexually abused children, told UPI Next that more boys are abused than girls because they are subject to less stringent control and supervision.


"Rural people, especially tribal ones of South Asia -- be it India, Pakistan or Afghanistan -- are sensitive to female children and have an element of respect," he said. "They do not allow girls to mix with boys in villages or at home. Strong culture and traditions are also a bar on females' movement in society. In such a situation, boys are easily available and are more sexually abused."

Asked about police and outside organizations' data indicating that more girls are abused, Shah said that when girls are abused, "it becomes an issue for whole family, the whole village and tribe; they are reported to the police."

"On the other hand, male child abuse cases are not reported unless they are serious ones," he said.

In the most severe cases, he said, sexually abused children are found with severe physical injuries bleeding or unconscious. Shah said children were abused mostly in rural areas, where literacy is low and poverty is high. But abuse also happens in the elite and lower middle classes.

"Small children are enticed," Shah said. "Parents of children in the elite class usually hold high office and have a busy lifestyle. They do not have time for their children. Further, drug addiction is common in our elite class, and acquaintances -- i.e., relatives of children, uncles, cousins and even male servants -- sexually assault children when they are on drugs."


"In the lower middle class, the family is integrated -- 20 to 30 people share the same house -- and parents are usually illiterate, plus they have a large number of children," he said. "In such situations, children are abused only by relatives." Shah blamed lack of sex education for child abuse.

"Parents feel shy about educating their children about sex, which is a human instinct and cannot be stopped in any way," he said. "The problem with South Asian societies -- i.e., Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh -- is that even talking about sex is considered a crime. But every individual has the desire of having sex, which is not easy in these societies."

He also blamed information technology -- cellphones, the Internet and vulgarity on television -- for increasing sexual urges and consequent child abuse. He said child rapes occur in every society, even developed ones.

Manizeh Bano, executive director of Sahil, a non-governmental organization that works exclusively on child sexual abuse and exploitation, agreed that violence, poverty and inflation are increasing child abuse, but she disagreed about the role of technology.

"You can't stop technological advancement," she told UPI Next by phone. "It is better that we place a system of checks and balances, plus effective monitoring on children to stop their sexual abuse."


Shugfta Bhatti, a UNICEF child protection specialist, also speaking to UPI Next in a phone interview, that Pakistan has no child protection management system to protect against sexual abuse and that there is no exact data on children being abused in the country.

"Pakistan does not have even a national child protection policy," Bhatti said. "UNICEF prepared a policy and urged the government to implement it, but unfortunately it has not been implemented to date. Even the Punjab Child Protection Bureau does not have any mechanism to rehabilitate sexually assaulted children."

Shah said child abusers have a mindset that can be broken "when a clear policy is in place with practical steps, like establishing a child protection authority for the whole country and bureaus at the district, tehsil [administrative subdivision] and village level."

"In such a scenario, case management can be strengthened and children can be protected from sexual abuse," she said.

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