On day to day basis child abuse cases emerge in one part of the country or the other. Now people have accustomed to this vicious and brutal crime in our society which has mushroomed to every nook and cranny of the land. Our extreme lack of sensitivity regarding children is manifest in the fact how government, media, and the whole nation responded to the mass child abuse scandal in Kasur. A temporary hype was created which soon faded away. Zenab’s case which got media spotlight in early 2018 couldn’t draw us out of the deep slumber. Thus, many other hapless children found their names on the grim list following Zenab. According to figures provided by an NGO, the number of child abuse cases reported in the first half of the year 2018 stood at 2,322.

For children who are subjected to sexual abuse the agony they endure is not transitory. They go through intense physical and mental sufferings for the rest of their lives. Being dogged by complicated psychological and social problems, life becomes very difficult for them. More or less, their family members are racked with same pains. Even terror is struck into the whole neighbouring communities when such scandal comes to light. Panic spreads through both parents and children, and bizarre measures are taken for protection of minors.

Cases of rampant child molestation have not only marred our wider society but these have also damaged our prestige in the world community. According to “Save the Children”, an international non-governmental organisation that works for the welfare of children, Pakistan is the worst country in South Asia for children to live in if Afghanistan is not taken into account. The question is what preventive measures in our country are in place to protect children who are vulnerable, whose parents have no resources to access media, no influence to register an FIR, no money to hire a good lawyer, and no power to intimidate the abuser?

Lack of concern on the part of government constitutes a serious impediment to safeguarding our children. No concrete steps have been taken so far to check the increasing number of child abuse cases. Moreover, the conservative nature of the society is also a part of the problem. Families of child abuse victims have to live with a stigma if the facts are laid bare before the media, that’s why, many parents prefer not to report such cases. At the same time, there are many educational and religious institutions which would suppress and discourage the reporting of assaults and abuse of children on their campuses to protect their own reputations.

Flaws in our criminal justice system present a conundrum which has left our legislators and legal experts perplexed, not knowing what to begin with. Most of the child abusers go scot free because of being influential or weak prosecution of the case. Victims are mostly poor and are either threatened with terrible consequences or bribed heavily for not reporting. Besides, for a poor person there are excruciating pains to suffer if he follows the case. In addition to the fact that his child is being sick or killed by the abuser he has to waste resources on filing FIR and running a case in court of law along with many days without wages.

Government should be a guardian of the people it governs, a status on par with that of parenthood. In this respect the state has dismally failed in fulfilling its responsibilities particularly vis-à-vis children. Had one of the above 2,322 children’s father were a Prime Minister, Chief Justice, or Chief of Army Staff what would have been the response of the state machinery? All relevant institutions would have stepped into action on time. Print and electronic media including the social media would have been flooded with news and articles baying for the punishment of the predator, thereby a big hype being created and 24/7 follow-up on the case by the press. Severe and stiff penalty would have been announced for child abusers along with high probability of implementing strict preventive measures. Though remember! All the abused children are under indirect guardianship of the state and they should be considered on par with their own children by the leadership of the country.

It is the responsibility of the state to make provisions for a healthy and favourable environment where children flourish and prosper. Regretfully, we have miserably failed in doing so. Whether it is the continuing presence of child sexual abuse or child marriages, child beggary or child trafficking, child illiteracy or child malnutrition, child labour or corporal punishment, the prevalence of all indicates that our children are among those who live the harshest lives in the world.

It’s time we took the problems of children seriously and adopted a down to earth approach for their resolution. Let’s make them a boon what they are, not a bane for the future of the nation. Otherwise Paulo Coelho’s quote “every blessing ignored becomes a curse” would fit on us.

The writer is a freelance contributor.