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Saving the other Zainabs

It is disheartening to see that politicians have continued to spar over the tragic murder of Zainab, ignoring the grief and agony of other parents whose daughters and sons have also fallen prey to sexual attacks.

Instead of doing any soul-searching and taking effective measures to prevent such incidents in the future, they are trading allegations and hurling insults at one another. Capitalising on this issue for political gains is truly unacceptable. Some media persons have even started churning out conspiracies theories about the incident to draw ratings and checkmate their rivals.

But this should be a time of sombre reflection and self-accountability. In addition to extending our condolences to the grieving families and showing our sympathies to those who have suffered such forms of abuse, we should also be pondering over the ways that might help society prevent such incidents in the future.

Let’s begin by identifying the areas where most children fall prey to molestation and sexual abuse. According to various reports, bus stations, train stations and shrines in major urban areas are the primary centres that attract runaway children. This is where they are lured in by child molesters and tricked into accompanying them. Some of these children end up in the hands of an assortment of begging gangs while others – mostly boys – are embroiled in child prostitution.

The Punjab government has already established a child protection bureau. A vigorous surveillance of these areas should, therefore, be carried out by such forums. Non-local children should be immediately identified and any adult accompanying a child should be stopped and interrogated so as to ascertain his/her relationship with the child.

The bureau should keep an eye on homeless children because they are far more vulnerable. Any child who is found in these places should immediately be taken to the bureau or any child care centre where he/she will be safe. The state should inform people through the media about these children so that they can be reunited with their families. Other provinces should also introduce such bureaus or child protection centres to ensure maximum security to children.

Children who are compelled to work on account of their socioeconomic circumstances are another vulnerable group. According to statistics, more than 20 million children in the country are victims of child labour. This is in addition to the million others who help their parents in the fields, brick kiln factories and garbage-collecting businesses. Most children who work in the transport, hotel, garment and auto-maintenance sectors are routinely sexually abused by older boys or, even, shop owners. Many of these children may not even be aware of the fact that an attempt to touch their body parts falls into the category of molestation or sexual harassment.

Even the perpetrators – who are mostly older boys – consider such acts to be normal. The state should ideally make consistent efforts to abolish child labour as it could drastically reduce the number of child molestation cases that surface in the country. But since this strategy cannot be implemented in the short term, the state needs to carry out a vigourous campaign to build awareness among boys of all ages as well as the owners of small shops. It must inform them about the possible legal consequences of such heinous acts. This might serve to address such issues at work places. The installations of cameras at shops and work places should be declared mandatory. These measures will discourage people from indulging in such cruel acts that impact the lives of millions of children.

In rural areas, a number of girls, women and boys fall prey to such heinous acts when they go into the open fields to answer the call of nature. It is quite disappointing to see that while the budgets for roads, bridges and underpasses stretch to billions of rupees across the country, the health budget of all the federating units is less than Rs200 billion.

If the federal government and its federating units stop spending money on advertisements that feature the photographs of Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Imran Khan, PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Murad Ali Shah, Pervez Khattak, Quddus Bizenjo and other leaders, they could easily save enough money to set up public toilets in all rural areas of the country. Why can’t these leaders summon the moral courage to request their workers and the government to not lavishly spend public money on these futile gestures of sycophancy and flattery?

The Punjab government claims that its forensic lab played a decisive role in determining the identity of Zainab’s murderer. It is reported that the DNA report in Zainab’s case was prepared within a few days while it took months for DNA tests to be prepared in similar cases that surfaced before this incident. It would far more effective for the Punjab government to immediately carry out DNA tests in future cases and obtain its result as soon as possible. The Punjab government should also immediately study all cases of child sexual abuse in the past and, if possible, carry out DNA tests to nab the perpetrators.

It is disheartening to see that the Oxford-educated Imran Khan and Bilawal Bhutto seem to be unaware of the importance of forensic labs in these cases. If they were, they would have set up such facilities in their own provinces? Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has yet to establish such labs even though four-year-old Asma was raped and killed and child prostitution remains rampant in the province.

One wonders if the respected leaders of the PTI have gone through the report of an international media outlet that exposed one such ring in Peshawar. Another such gang was also recently unearthed in Balochistan. So, all provinces should immediately take concrete steps to establish such labs. This will not only help find the perpetrators of such crimes against children but will also be instrumental in tracking criminals in general.

The media should not adopt an idle stance at this stage. It should take every instance of child abuse seriously. The media should no longer adopt a strictly urban focus and must also keep a vigilant eye on the remote corners of the country where such incidents routinely occur and are conveniently hushed up.

This incident also serves as a litmus test for the judiciary. It should not only ensure speedy justice but must also make the police act diligently. Since there is considerable political pressure on cops, the judiciary might be in a better position to make them improve their performance. The government, on its part, should take suitable steps to strengthen the prosecution and ensure a high conviction rate in such cases. For this purpose, top criminal lawyers should be hired by the state. All the relevant stakeholders should stop hurling allegations at one another and instead focus on safeguarding the future of our children.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: egalitarianism444@ gmail.com

Abdul Sattar, "Saving the other Zainabs," The News. 2018-01-30.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political pressure , Political gains , Sexual abuse , Politicians , Judiciary , Imran Khan , PM Abbasi , Balochistan , Peshawar , PTI , DNA

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