In 2012, 3,861 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in Pakistan according to Sahil, a local non-governmental organisation. This represented an increase of 17% from the previous year. Campaigners believe this rise in reported cases could reflect the fact that in Pakistan the issue of child abuse is being more openly discussed. Certainly, the recent case of a five year-old girl who was brutally raped in Lahore last month and dumped outside a hospital, received widespread media coverage and sparked mass protests and calls for justice. The matter has now been taken up at the highest levels of government.
Speaking to the news agency IRIN, a support officer at the Karachi-based non-governmental organisation War Against Rape (WAR) explained that in the “conservative society” of Pakistan, “rape is taboo” and few families want to talk about it, let alone go to the police. Reported cases may therefore only be around 10–20% of the actual number of child victims each year. WAR has come across many children who have suffered sexual abuse but are reluctant to speak out.
Local NGOs, such as Sahil and WAR, believe that the recent furore surrounding the five year-old girl has focused attention on the issue of rape and sexual abuse. A spokesperson at Sahil told IRIN that “more cases” of child rape were being reported across the country since the incident. A separate case of a four year-old boy being abused in a nursery in Faisalabad has also garnered media attention.
Accepting that abuse takes place
When assessing the data on the reported cases of child rape and abuse, nearly half are carried out by an “acquaintance” or person “known to the victim and their family”. Even when families ignore the social pressures to remain quiet and come forward to report abuse, they face a long legal process and stigma within their communities. One young mother who was raped by a neighbour when she was 13 says that “no one” was told what had happened, even her own father, “because of the shame”. And despite her own experience, the mother said she didn’t think she would be able to talk about “sex or rape” with her own daughter.
Campaigners and local NGOs therefore face an uphill task in battling to raise awareness about child seuxal abuse. Nevertheless, by providing training sessions to teachers in schools, particularly in orthodox areas, they hope to advise others how to recognise the signs of sexual abuse and how to talk to children. In their work, the NGOs say that at least they have found “an increased readiness” among school staff to discuss the issue more openly and to accept that though Pakistan is an Islamic country, sexual abuse of children still takes place.