By Pervez Saleem
“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”
“Child abuse damages a person for life and that damage is in no way diminished by the ignorance of the perpetrator. It is only with the uncovering of the complete truth as it affects all those involved that a genuinely viable solution can be found to the dangers of child abuse.”
Child sexual abuse – the ultimate taboo
For this well-off Pakistani family, it was a soul shattering nightmare that cast its dark shadow on the household for years to come.
Two vulnerable siblings, Sana (Age 6) and Saqib (Age 8), were left at home in the care of family servant Ghulam, while their parents travelled abroad. Like countless servants employed by families across Pakistan, Ghulam was a domestic helper who had earned the trust of his employers through his long history of service.
This trust was tragically misplaced. Left unsupervised to care for Sana and Saqib, Ghulam took the two innocent children to his room and tied Saqib to a chair. With the protesting boy safely bound, Ghulam proceeded to molest Sana, a child barely of school going age.
This story is not from some far-flung area, but from the heart of urban Pakistan. “If I narrated all the cases in Karachi alone to you, we would be here talking for many days. The cases are countless, and involve ‘normal’ families,” says Saadia Parvez, an American educated psychotherapist who has specialised in trauma, and is currently counselling at a renowned school in Pakistan. Saadia also happens to be one of the only two qualified art therapists in the nation. She thus interacts regularly with young adults, and frequently encounters cases of sexual abuse. She also runs workshops in Pakistan which educate young people about child sexual abuse.
“It is traumatic to work on such cases,” admits Saadia, herself a mother of young children. Her work with victims of sexual abuse has resulted in her being highly protective of her own offspring, and she believes that Pakistani parents aren’t quite aware of how vulnerable their children are. According to Saadia, these horrific acts happen with a frightening regularity in every major city in Pakistan, and she estimates that 80% of the victims are abused by someone familiar to the family, while 60% of the abuse comes at the hands of household servants. Child abuse, she says, is very much on the rise in Pakistan. (The Express Tribune)
Lahore: Sidra Bibi was a young girl living with her parents and siblings in the Pakistani city of Lahore when she suffered sexual abuse, and the trauma has lived with her over the years.
“My mother, my father, my aunts and my uncles all connived to protect my paternal grandfather, who was abusing me, my sister and our female cousins since we were six or seven years old,” Sidra, now 30 and married. The grandfather, she added, asked the girls to masturbate him, then committed anal penetration on Sidra and her cousin.
“We were asked to keep quiet as the truth would destroy the family,” said Sidra, who is certain the matter was discussed among the adults in the family, but no action taken as “my grandfather was a respected elder”. Sidra has also never told her husband what she experienced, but says she is “very protective” of her own small daughter.
Sidra is just one victim. According to media reports, sexual abuse is not uncommon in Pakistan and ranges from harassment to incest.
Between four walls: sweeping sexual abuse under the carpet
By Nighat Dad
The first time she was sexually abused, she was 14 years old. She broke into tears while telling me her story. I met this girl at the “Take Back The Tech” event, in Peshawar, where she came to me after my session on sexual harassment and cyber legislation. She asked me, “what should a girl do when she has been facing sexual abuse from her biological father for the last 6 years?” I was numbed.
She told me how, being brought up in an educated Peshawar family, she never thought she would face this abuse within the four walls of her own home. She revealed that her first memory of sexual abuse came from when she was about 14 years old. Her father got her alone in the house and started touching her in a sexual way. Terrified and confused, she squirmed and kicked her father but he grabbed her and threatened her not to tell anyone; after that he regularly started coming into her bedroom and touched her while she was sleeping.
The girl told her mother, so most of her family knew about it already and her mother let this happen under her nose just to save her own family life. She described feeling powerless and alone:
“My mother thinks that resistance is dangerous and useless and that if she ever asks her husband to stop sexually abusing his own daughter, he will throw us out including my five sisters. My mother always asks me: “where will we go then, who will give us shelter?”
At that moment the young girl erupted. Years of pent up emotion rose to the surface.
“My mother is able to stop this but the ugly realization is that in reality she fails as a protector, as a real mother!”
She went on: “I am always scared and the slightest sound in the room wakes me up. I have been carrying this burden for more than six years and I have struggled with this secret that is literally eating me from the inside out. I told this to my friend and she advised me to go to the police and lodge a complaint. But like you know, you can’t just do that. I want to kill myself or kill him if he ever touches me in any way … Please tell me what to do. I am desperate, I’ve come down with Manic Depression. I feel dirty – so dirty.”
Her story made me feel sick to my stomach; I was shocked and numbed, and didn’t know what to tell her at first. I can’t even imagine that any father can do this to his own daughter, he who is supposed to take care of her. It feels so disgusting, filthy and sickening…
SAHIL MISSION….To develop a protective environment for children free from all form of violence especially child sexual abuse.
Sahil works through community based organizations with the objective of reaching out to communities on issues of child rights, protection, parenting skills and gender based violence through awareness raising and capacity building.
Child Protection Networks (CPNs)
Sahil is establishing CPNs at the village level with representation at the Union Council level. These networks will address children issues and are linked through a referral support system to relevant public and private sectors at the district level.
Sahil’s work includes:
Advocacy on child rights
Training and capacity building
Expand sustainable child advocacy, protection and empowerment
Expand outreach by strengthening capacity of keystake holders to protect children
Create effective and sustainable local mechanisms for protection of children through child protection network at district level
Research and Publications
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