By Rutvi Saxena
The rape and murder of a seven-year-old in the Pakistani city of Kasur has sparked widespread outrage in the country. This incident highlighted the sexual assaults running deep within the conservative Pakistani society.
Zainab’s rape and murder
While her parents were away on an Umrah pilgrimage, Zainab Amin Ansari went missing while returning home from a tuition on Quranic studies. An autopsy has confirmed that Zainab was strangled and sodomised and suggests she was raped, the medical officer who carried out the examination, Dr Quratulain Atique, told CNN. Her body was found four days after it went missing, on January 9th, in a garbage bin. Marred by torture marks and her tongue crushed between her teeth, the autopsy further suggested that she may have been dead for two or three days already by the time the autopsy was performed. She is the 12th child to have been murdered within a two-kilometre radius in Kasur, a province in Punjab, over the past year. The incident is one of the many in a region scarred by paedophilia, suggesting a larger framework within which crimes against women need to be tackled.
“In Pakistan, security is for leaders and we are just common insects.” Ansari alleged. Chairman of the Pakistani Aweem Tehreek party Dr Tahir ul-Qadri led the funeral, which saw hundreds of citizens turn out in the protest calling out on the authorities’ apathy about rampant child abuse. The situation turned violent leading to burning of vehicles and blocked roads. Two protesters were even killed in clashes with the riot police. #JusticeforZainaab has gained popularity on social media from Celebrities as well, with Nobel laureate Malala Yousafazi saying “Heartbroken to hear about Zainab…This has to stop. Govt and authorities must take action.”
One of many
In 2015, a gang of 20-25 men in Kasur were arrested for forcing children into making sex videos and blackmailing them by threatening to sell the recordings. They had abused children between 2009 to 2014, with at least one CD shop selling these videoes which hid the face of the perpetrators while showing the children’s faces clearly. It was reported that around 400 videos had been made of 280 minors, and the Pakistani city incited outrage even then. A report by the National Commission for Human Rights found police guilty ‘not only of criminal negligence but connivance’. However, they allegedly gave up under pressure from the influential families to which the criminals belonged.
The current scenario seems to continue in the same vein. Zainab was last seen on January 4, with a grainy CCTV footage showing her walking hand in hand with the suspected killer down the Peerowala road. When her father, Ameen Ansari arrived at Islamabad airport a few days later, he was informed by his relatives that the police “didn’t do anything” when his daughter was first reported missing. Instead, they would “come, have food and leave” as “friends and family spent day and night looking for my daughter.” DNA obtained from her body matches that found on other bodies subjected to assault recently, which were also found in drains, parks and other public spots.
Sexual abuse rampage
Last month too, a nine-year-old went missing while going to a marketplace near her house. Although she managed to escape captivity and return, the ordeal left her traumatised.
In November 2017, the rape of a young boy in a Madrasa in Kehrore Pakka in Pakistan shed light on a practice that prevails even in a system reaching two million children. A tally of cases reported in newspapers over the past 10 years of sexual abuse by maulvis or clerics and other religious officials came to 359. This is the “tip of the iceberg” according to Sahil, an organisation working against sexual abuse of minors.
At that time, religious minister Sardar Muhammad Yousaf had dismissed the claim that sexual abuse is widespread, insisting that such talks were an attempt to malign the religion.
Police suspect a serial killer aged between 25 and 35 years to be the culprit and have released a sketch of the man. Malik Ahmad Khan, a Punjab government spokesman said there had been eight attacks on girls in the past two years that were now linked by DNA evidence and that Zainab may be the ninth victim in line. Confirmation of the DNA links is awaited at the moment, with about 50 individuals in custody to have their DNA tested. Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab also expressed his condolences to the family and has offered a reward of $90,000 to anyone supplying information leading to an arrest.
Fear of a predator looms in the city, with people afraid to let women go out. “We are not letting our girls get out. We’re terrified about their safety after what happened to Zainab,” neighbour Muhammad Iqbal said. Safety for women is still a long-awaited dream in the country, with 90% of Pakistani women having to face domestic violence. Way back in 2011, a Reuters report had called Pakistan the third most dangerous country for a woman (with India being fourth).
More than 1,000 women and girls are victims of ‘honour killings’ every year, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission. In a society where clerics and men wield immense power and sexual abuse is a taboo subject, very few crimes are reported and even less lead to a conviction. Pakistan’s legal system allows one to ‘forgive’ the crime and accept what is commonly called ‘blood money’ in return.
In a society that has long been forced to accept abuse as natural, the public outrage is a sign that people are not going to stand for it any longer. Before the arrest and persecution of such heinous crimes, a discourse about sexual assault needs to be initiated and de-stigmatised, so that victims can speak up without fear. While this might not happen in the near future, the citizens’ refusal to sit back and resign themselves does provide a glimmer of hope.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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