Beena Sarwar A professor of Gynaechology at Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital contacted WAR when an eight-year old girl was brought to her for treatment. Brief facts of the case are reported elsewhere in this issue. The following article by Ms. Beena Sarwar, a founding Working Committee member of WAR appeared in The News on 2-5-2000 Eight year old Roohi* does not know that she has been raped. Apparently recovered from the pain and the trauma of a few days ago, the little girl smiles angelically from her hospital bed as she extends a handshake to visitors. But tears trickled down her cheeks earlier as she told doctors what happened: how her mamoo’s son came over, sent her brother out, opened her shalwar drawstring, and did ‘shararat’, his hand clamped over her mouth to muffle her cries. His assault left her profusely bleeding, with an inch-and-a-half tear long tear. “She was packed,” says a young doctor at a government hospital in Lahore, describing Roohi’s condition after she was rushed there after initial treatment from a hospital in Pattoki. Packed? “With gauze,” explains the doctor. “To stop the bleeding.” The gauze pads were soaked with blood, and a catheter had been inserted to allow the child to pass urine. “She was in a state of shock.” There is outrage among the doctors. But one of them raises a crucial issue: the rapist is barely sixteen. “We need to probe why he did this,” she says. “How can he have been provoked by an eight-year old girl?” Rape is not a sexual act but an act of power, made easier if the victim has been previously molested. “Molested children are more vulnerable,” notes psychologist Uzma Peerzada who volunteers with the non-profit organisation War Against Rape. She is trying to provide some support therapy to Roohi in hospital, since it will be difficult for the girl to get any such help once she goes back to her village. “She’s so little, she doesn’t even look eight,” says Uzma, who has counseled other child survivors of rape and their parents. A child who in the first instance refuses to allow an unwanted touch, is less likely to be assaulted; most children in Pakistan are conditioned to obey, scolded into accepting the playful slaps, cheek pulling and slobbery kisses of older relatives. What about the cousin who attacked Roohi? Psychologist Akhtar Naqvi identifies certain trends that contribute to violence and deviant sexual behavior: “satellite channels in the cities, and widely prevelant homosexuality in rural areas” — homosexuality, not as in sexual preference, but as in coercion of younger boys by older men.
A child who has been molested or abused is more likely to abuse and molest, although this does not excuse, condone or justify the crime. The case also raises the issue of how juvenile offenders should be treated. A ruling of the Sindh High Court states that minors can only be kept in a certified school, not jailed, the government has no such centres. But is handing them over to the police and going through the process of law the answer? Many, like psycho-therapist Maqbool Babri believe not. In this case, he holds, both children are victims. “Rape is one symptom of a malaise in society, and perpetrators need treatment,” he says. “Punishing individual perpetrators is not the solution. We need to recognise society’s role in the crime. We are all guilty, and severe punishments only assuage this collective guilt.” Not that Roohi’s widowed mother, Naseeban* is about to pursue the case anyway. Roohi is the third of her four dependent children, and the family, completely unlettered and poor, is dependent on the community for their ‘dana pani’. The emancipated looking Naseeban was away for a few days when Roohi was attacked, having taken an older daughter, 13, to the shrine in Jia Bhagga. “She had hallucinations and bit people. Twelve ‘balain’ (spirits) were removed… I left her with my ‘masi’ when someone from the village came to fetch me.” A doctor at the Lahore hospital offered to get the hallucinating girl treated, but Naseeban can’t leave to get her until Roohi is discharged. It is unlikely even then, that she will bring the girl all the way to Lahore. Who will look after her other children, where will she live, how will they manage? As for the rape, “I don’t know who did it,” she says, perched on the hospital bed, oiling and combing Roohi’s straggly hair, streaked blond with malnutrition. “I wasn’t there”. She comes out of the ward to the doctor’s room to talk privately, persisting in her denial, even when asked whether or not she believes the child. She wasn’t there when two policemen turned up at the Lahore hospital the other day, to ask the administrator to certify the girl insane. On his outraged refusal, they left. Did they come from Pattoki, or were they from the Lahore police force? Who sent them? Was it the boy’s father, wanting his son exonerated of the crime he had committed? If so, he didn’t have to bother. Naseeban has no intention of pursuing the case. The culprit has already been beaten by the villagers, and locked up until she returns to decide his fate. “What decision can I make?” she says helplessly. “I will have to forgive him. After all, he is also my own (brother’s son).” In fact, the offender in most such cases is a blood relative or related by marriage, an uncle, brother, cousin, even father or grandfather, and social pressures contribute to hushing the matter up without pursuing the legal course — which itself has so many problems.
Newspaper reports compiled by Sahil, an NGO focusing on child abuse, showed that the culprits were family or personal acquaintances in 72 per cent of the 476 reported cases of children assaulted between January to June 1999; 60 per cent were girls (mostly between 10-15 years old), and 40 per cent boys (mostly 5 to 15 years old). It should be remembered that reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, since most such incidents go unreported, as the Commission of Inquiry for Women, in its very comprehensive report of August 1997, recognised. Action is generally not taken, it notes, because of factors including: “the perpetrator is usually a friend or relative; the reputation and future of the child; a society which is likely to hold the child at least partially responsible; and inadequacies in the legal system… In the case of the lowest income families, the situation becomes even more horrendous. Sleeping in the same room, mothers are often aware when a father or brother is responsible for the abuse, but are unable to take any action of even acknowledge it, because of social censure and economic dependence on the very persons who are committing the abuse.” Child sexual abuse is not limited to the poor, but is more prevelant where relationships of power make it difficult to resist. It is this power more than the use of force that is used to break the defence, especially where the child or woman is conditioned to obey unquestioningly. The Womens Inquiry Commission Report recommends: “Since this is an area which has been virtually ignored in Pakistan, much more concerted efforts are required to develop a sensitive policy and enact special legislation.” Several countries have enacted “special legislation on child sexual abuse and have also developed sensitive procedures to deal with the issue, including specially trained judges, trained persons to question the child”.
In Pakistan, the court’s treatment of child victims of sexual abuse “leaves much to be desired, involving harsh language and insensitive questions”. The Report says, other countries have “developed special techniques and hospital cells for physical examinations and other treatment, and pscyhologists and psychiatrists dealing specifically with this issue…. Nurses and doctors must be educated about it and trained how to handle cases; and most importantly, cells must be opened in government hospitals to deal with medico-legal cases of child sexual abuse”. The prevalence of child sexual abuse is compounded by the failure of parents, teachers and law enforcing agencies. “We must focus on the first two right now,” says Akhtar Naqvi, who has recently completed a study on homosexual behaviour, pegged on the Javed Iqbal case. He stresses the importance of preventive education on this issue. Children who are aware of and confident about their bodies and themselves, are less likely to be abused than those who are conditioned to be unquestioningly docile. Turning around the situation will not be easy in a largely illiterate, conservative and poor society, but it can be done. Naqvi points to the success of the recent polio vaccination drive. “Violence and deviant sexual behaviour also need to be addressed in a properly coordinated, well publicised campaign,” he suggests. The Womens Commission Report also recommends preventive measures “through school curricula or special programmes run for school children”. But before this can happen, we need to agree that such education is necessary to empower our children and to accept and encourage their empowerment and questioning minds, rather than shut them up as we tend to do. ———————— *Name changed to protect identity Press Release WAR expresses concern over drop in reporting of sexual abuse Lahore (March 7):
War Against Rape Lahore has expressed its concern over the police department’s practice of not registering FIRs without considerable persuasion. This practice is deplorable generally, but in cases of sexual abuse, it is outright inhuman. WAR usually does not attach particular importance to statistics or figures as the issue of sexual abuse is far too serious to be analysed on only statistically, but the recent decline in reported cases is so drastic that the organization is willing to initiate a thorough study of the causes of this decline. In the last two months of 1999, reported rape cases in Punjab dropped to half of the cases reported in the province in the corresponding period of 1998, in the first two months of 2000, the reported cases declined to one-third of the corresponding figures of 1999. The reduction in sexual crimes is undoubtedly desirable but such sudden shift smacks of foul play. Traditionally police are reluctant to register FIRs of any crime. Invariably, in all cases handled by WAR, the victim complains that the case was registered only after some gratification to or influence exerted on the police. The recent change in reduction of reported cases could be attributed to two factors. Firstly the governor of Punjab has issued strict orders to ‘curb’ crime. He has also set up a monitoring section in the governor house for henious crimes, including gang rape. The easiest way for the police to comply is to reduce crime artificially by reducing the number of FIRs. The other reason is that in the killing-100-children case, police officials, particularly a DSP, have been embarassed by their alleged involvement and the police find it convenient to keep the reporting of such cases to a minimum. It is the responsibility of the government to look into the matter and ensure that people surviving the inhuman crime of sexual abuse are not discouraged to call for justice.