The onset of this month brought along with it the news of yet another seven-year-old girl, Sidra, who was kidnapped by her uncle while she was taking a nap. After she was brutally raped and killed, all her uncle had to say was that he made a mistake. As unsettling and disgusting as this news is, unfortunately, Sidra is not an exception. The persistence of toxicity of Pakistani society and our negligent attitude towards it is encouraging frustrated adults to target young children as easy outlets. The lack of accountability from the state’s side when it comes to this child abuse only makes it easier and easier for these monsters to walk free.

Earlier this year in September, a man was caught after raping and killing four young boys who had been missing for days, but authorities were of no help. There have been as many as 1300 children sexual abuse cases reported in the first half of 2019 in Pakistan. Some are motivated by convenience while others can also be motivated by religion. For example, this summer Pakistan witnessed an epidemic of underage Hindu girls getting kidnapped, converted to Islam, and married off to, more often than not, an older man.

However, minors are not only in danger sexually, as there has been an epidemic of all kinds of abuse at the hands of merciless adults. On 5th September a seventeen-year-old, Hunain Bilal, was tortured and beaten to death by his own school teacher for apparently an academic shortcoming. The teacher was arrested and the boy was rushed to the hospital but could not be revived.

The list goes on. On August 17th, 2019, a fifteen-year-old boy, Rehan, was tied up to the roof of a house in Karachi. The men who tied him up were accusing him of entering their house with the intent to steal. Instead of calling local authorities, they tied him up and beat the young boy on video until he took his last breaths. Similarly in May, a-ten year-old girl who worked as domestic help in her employer’s house was attacked with hot water by her mistress upon making a minor mistake. She sustained serious burn injuries, after which the employer’s family left her with her own parents, and fled.

Although child abuse has lingered in every society, Pakistanis awoke to this reality more so last year, when the body of a seven-year-old girl, Zainab, was discovered in a trash heap after her rape and murder. Soon, CCTV footage circulated showing Zainab walking happily hand-in-hand with the pedophile as he lures away to a secluded spot. The harrowing details of her death were etched into the public’s minds, and so angry citizens took the streets and demanded legal action and protection laws for our children. So why does it seem like the epidemic has only grown?

After the outrage over Zainab last year, the Zainab Alert Bill was proposed which is meant to be a gateway for setting up the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency where missing children can be reported and generate an automatic alert. This step towards a solution is promising as this bill advocates for a uniform practice set in place for the recovery of missing children under any circumstances. Set up by the Ministry of Law and Justice, and the Ministry of Human Rights, this bill has been going back and forth for months as lawmakers debate over it. Such reactions from our leaders are difficult to read as anything more than a band-aid measure to cover up a problem rather than solve it.

Another such band-aid solution was when earlier this year, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa made it mandatory for girls as old as ten to cover themselves up in an abaya (gown) as part of their school dress code. This response from our leaders once again made it seem like it was the child’s responsibility to remain safe, and more importantly, that only girls are in danger when in reality, young boys are far more susceptible.

Pakistan has around 22 million minors who aren’t going to school. Instead, they contribute to their family’s income by working at road-side restaurants, as janitorial staff, as domestic workers, in marketplaces, as well as many other odd jobs like these; or we can call a spade a spade, and own up to what it really is: exploitation.

As a country, we are constantly exploiting our youth. The economic disparities in our society already alienate them from regular life, but then we use a convoluted sense of morality to repress them even further. Instead of encouraging an open dialogue, we use outdated taboos to keep our children from coming to us when they’re in trouble. Our leaders continue to demonize the child rather than make an example out of their predators. And any efforts towards progress are delayed and take a backseat in the face of other self-serving initiatives for our politicians. We have made our children the target of this epidemic, and our halfhearted band-aid solutions ensure that they remain a prey, as every day we prove to them that there is no one in their corner.

  • Shehrbano Naqvi

    Shehrbano Naqvi is a Pakistani writer currently living in Rome after completing her undergraduate degree from John Cabot University. Naqvi believes very strongly in the power of the pen, which is why she is also pursuing teaching English and the skill of writing. Although she has always identified as a short story writer, over the past year she has found a companionship in poetry as it helps her navigate her brother's untimely passing last year. His loss an inspiration, her writing now focuses primarily on mental health, toxic conventions, and life after death.