“What can we do?” This is the phrase I’ve been hearing the most in the wake of 7 year old Zainab Ansari’s rape and murder in Kasur. I won’t use the phrase “brutal” to describe what happened to this child, because that’s self-evident. I also refused to share any pictures of her body, broken and bloodied, thrown onto a rubbish heap, on social media. But I shared my outrage, my anger, and my frustration with anyone who would listen, on any platform. That’s the first thing you can do as an ordinary citizen: express your horror at this absolute failure on behalf of the authorities to protect Zainab, or any other child like her in Pakistan.
Two years ago, a pedophile ring was uncovered in Kasur; hundreds of children had been abused and raped, filmed, and those films were circulating in this Punjabi district for the viewing pleasure of its pedophiles and predators. The authorities, when confronted with the testimony of these children and their parents, did absolutely nothing.
Apparently a prominent political family was involved in filming the children and blackmailing their parents. The Punjabi law minister Rana Sanaullah said it was a “land dispute” and refused to investigate. The authorities protected the prominent family and hushed the case up, sending two men to jail but going no further.
Would Zainab be alive today if the authorities had done their utmost to bust the pedophile ring in Kasur? We can’t know this for sure. But what we do know is that when the authorities don’t implement the laws, when they don’t go after criminals, then other criminals become emboldened, knowing that nothing will happen to them. This is true of rape, it is true of murder and it is true whether the victims are adults or children.
But we have to put the blame where it belongs: not on the parliamentarians, who have passed laws that criminalize the rape and murder of children; legal reform is not the answer to this problem. It is the government, the police and the judiciary who are not doing their job properly in cases like the Kasur pedophile ring. It is they who need reform, as well as sensitivity training in dealing with cases of child abuse.
Going back to the question: “What can we do?” I want to grit my teeth and scream every time I hear citizens ask this question. Do you mean to say that you were not aware of the problem of child abuse? Do you mean you weren’t aware how widespread it is in Pakistan? Have you ever even thought about talking to your children about sexual abuse, or are you one of those enlightened beings that just pretends it could never happen to your child?
Or were you one of those parents who objected when your child’s school attempted to bring elements of sex education into your child’s curriculum? Did you gasp and clutch your pearls and say that you didn’t want your child learning “vulgarity” in the school? Did you send angry messages on WhatsApp saying that you would protest or have that teacher removed?
If so, then you know full well what you can do. In fact, you know very well what you must do. Talk to your child. Sit down with them. Explain what happened to Zainab if they are old enough to understand. Tell them, if they are only three years old, the difference between good and bad touch, and that their body is private and nobody is allowed to touch the parts of their body that are underneath a bathing suit, or their underwear.
Tell your children that it is NEVER their fault if an adult has been touching them, just once, or for a long time. Tell your children that no adult is allowed to have a “secret” with them about this. Tell them that you will not be angry, that you love them, that they can discuss anything with you.
Beyond educating your own children about this, you can create awareness with the people in your social circles. Your fellow parents. The schools. Insist that your school include sexual abuse awareness in the biology or health curriculum. Don’t fight the progressive teachers and principles that want to do this, give them your support.
You can educate yourself about the activities of NGOs like Rozan, Sahil, and AAHUNG, who have been fighting against child abuse for decades in Pakistan now. Raise money for Rozan, Sahil, or AAHUNG, and donate it to them. You can create solidarity for the victims of child abuse and their parents, who may be less educated, influential, or affluent than you, by helping them get in touch with these NGOs if they need help.
You can hold the media to account, and demand that they create awareness programs for television and radio, you can insist that they discuss these issues in their morning programs and their talk shows. You can ask your favorite celebrity to help raise awareness. The British-Pakistani actor Ahsan Khan, who played a pedophile in the series Udaari is writing a book and creating a documentary film about his experience, and about the issue of child abuse. Support celebrities like Mahira Khan who are bravely speaking out about this issue.
In the name of Zainab, this, my fellow Pakistanis, is what you can do.