Children have the right to be safe | By Hoor Rizvi


Children have the right to be safe

ACCORDING to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every four girls and one in every thirteen boys are prone to experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 18. These figures demonstrate how widespread the problem is.

For the first six months of 2022, the children’s rights organization Sahil reported an average of more than 12 daily cases of child sexual abuse across Pakistan. Because of underreporting, the actual figures are likely to be much higher. Sahil reported a 30% increase in child abuse across Pakistan in 2021. According to NGO’s annual report, 54% of all reported victims were girls, while 46% were boys.

Child sexual abuse remains common. Poverty is one of the significant factors contributing to the risk of child sexual abuse. According to a review of reported cases of child sexual abuse in Pakistan, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be sexually abused. Poverty, as well as a lack of civic authority, a lack of empowerment, and a negative ethnic identity, all have been contributing to child sexual abuse in the South Asian community.

The issue of child sexual abuse needs to be addressed in society more extensively. Scientific research confirms that child abuse has a long-term impact on child life, and this impact is not only reflected on a personal level but on an economic level as well; research shows that child abuse impacts the entire community, harming both quality of life and economic prosperity. Any sexual engagement activity with a child, irrespective of gender, by an adult, adolescent, or older is child abuse.

Abused children experience a toxic amount of stress, and a constant high level of stress is tainted to a child and affects the growing structure of a child’s brain. They deal with long-term intellectual, behavioural, physical and mental health issues. These impacts, according to experts, include antisocial behaviour, sadness, identity uncertainty, low self-esteem, and other emotional difficulties.

Adult survivors of sexual child abuse frequently suffer from desolation and consternation, which causes self-destructive behaviours like alcoholism or drug misuse, anxiety attacks, situation-specific anxiety disorders, and sleeplessness. Moreover, sexual abuse robs children of their youth and causes a lack of trust, feelings of shame, and self-abusive behaviours, making it difficult to form good human interactions with oneself, others, and the environment. Improper sexual knowledge, sexual desire, and sexually inappropriate behaviour are all visible symptoms of sexual abuse in a child.

According to UNICEF research, children are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know, typically an adult or older person who is a family member, a relative, or an acquaintance. The cultural and social stigma surrounding sexual abuse often discourages victims from the certainty that child survivors have access to sensitive justice, leading to underreporting and lack of prosecution.

The state must establish child-friendly courts. As an individual, at least what we can do to protect children from sexual assault is to participate in community-based preventative activities. Raise awareness and learn more about preventing abuse and keeping children safe. Take care of your child. Help victims of child abuse. Teach people how to ward off and report any suspicious of child abuse.

There is a dire need to engage children, parents, and the community in Child Sexual Abuse Prevention. People can change their personal and family lives through collective and positive action as a society which would be effective for environmental protection. We must understand that addressing child sexual abuse requires a coordinated and multi-sectoral response involving healthcare, social services, law enforcement, education, and civil society.

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Karachi.

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