Taking the lid off child abuse cases

Views from Srinagar

Akmal Hanan

THE graph of sexual assault cases of children is witnessing an upward trend in the subcontinent.
Child abuse cases are surfacing in many regions transcending cultural, religious and geographical boundaries. Compared to the practice in the past, media are also reporting incidents of child abuse frequently. These news reports also suggest that poor and underprivileged children are being targeted by sexual predators in increasing numbers.
Among the many, media recently reported on the two heart-wrenching rape and murder cases of two minor girls, one in Kasur, Pakistan and another in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir. In the former case, police recovered the body of seven-year-old Zainab Ansar from a garbage dump in Kasur district of Lahore in Pakistan four days after she went missing. The residents of Kasur said Zainab’s case was twelfth such incident in a year in the area. The police arrested Zainab’s neighbor Imran Ali, a 24-year-old man on the basis of CCTV footage and DNA sampling. The murderer as per the reports has confessed to at least seven such heinous crimes apart from this one. Zainab’s case is one among such cases reported from Pakistan. Another such case surfaced in another part of the country when a minor boy was allegedly raped by a preacher in a religious seminary.
In our own backyard, an eight-year-old nomad girl was found dead a week after she went missing in Kathua district. The family of the girl said their daughter was abducted, raped and then murdered by someone from the neighborhood. Police in Jammu and Kashmir have also said they have arrested the guilty in the case, without divulging any further details.
The murder and rape (alleged) of Kathua minor is also not an isolated incident in the State. Increasing number of sexual exploitation cases of children have surfaced in Jammu and Kashmir, more particularly in the Valley. These cases earlier have either been covered to “protect the family honor” or were not at all reported by the children due to fear of sexual predators or the shame society attaches to such crimes. Last year police arrested a fake peer in north Kashmir who was accused of exploiting children and minors.
What seems to be the common thread in most of the child abuse cases is that sexual predators were either from the neighborhood and known to the child or the children were abused by perverts under the garb of spiritual healing.
Like in many conservative societies in the subcontinent, in Kashmir valley people put a lot of trust in neighbors and people imparting religious teaching to children. In the Zainab’s case, the Kasur residents expressed surprise and shock for the perpetrator had been regarded as a pious religious man in the region. The point here is not to generalize the observation but to remind the society that many perpetrators might be finding it easy to carry out such shameful and heinous crimes under the garb of religiosity and spiritual healing.
There have also been cases wherein close relatives in families have been found involved in child abuse. Most of these cases never see the light of the day since the sexual predators are within the family, but at the same time leave the children with bruised psyche.
In order to put a check on such heinous crimes and save the minors from sexual predators, the children need to be under parents’ watch all the time. There is also a larger responsibility on the society in the sense that such perpetrators are not tolerated in the society, no matter the kind of social and religious clout they enjoy.
In Kashmir, we also heard about the fake peer by the name of Gulzar Bhat who exploited young girls under the garb of providing them religious teachings and how he almost succeeded in using his clout in society to go scot free. The need of the hour is to take off the lid from all such cases so that perpetrators are punished and such potential threats to children are eliminated before happening. What the people and society in particular need to understand is that there is no shame in reporting child abuse cases. The shame is only for the people who indulge in such acts. The children also need to be made aware about the possibilities of such wrongdoings that can happen. It has been observed children do not talk about such incidents with their parents due to fear and at times they hold themselves responsible for the abuse.
Any such case can be prevented if the society in general and parents in particular learn about the child abuse and its prevalence in the society. The awareness about the crimes will go long way in minimizing the possibilities of such heinous crimes. In unfortunate cases where a child has been abused, the parents need to be more understanding to reassure the child that it was not his or her fault. Professional counseling may also be necessary in many cases. Many children may also prefer to keep the abuse a secret so it’s important for parents to have a healthy conversation with their children on the issue of child abuse. It has also been observed that children may also sometimes drop hints that he or she was being abused as it is not easy for them to talk about such matters.
For parents, being attentive and to act always in the interest of children is the right course of action.
—Courtesy: Rising Kashmir.
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