A land where it takes seconds to be branded as a traitor or an infidel, it is not uncommon to keep matters hush-hush or be in complete denial. I am referring to Denialistan, the make belief world that most of us Pakistanis have created for ourselves; a world where see us devoid of flaws yet everyone being our enemy, bent on maligning us and busy weaving a web of conspiracies against us. Such deep-rooted is this mentality that even some of the most educated fall prey to it. At the same time our lack of knowledge about contemporary matters partly blinded by the self-proclaimed status of divine superiority has left us lagging far behind many other developing nations in terms of social reforms.

There are often times when the Pakistani nation is faced with a situation that further unearths the complexities of its societal norms that are deeply drenched in patriarchal traditions and religious dogma. Pakistani media too, be it print or television, whilst still continuing to boast about its not-so-new found freedom continues to exhibit the same ignorance in multiple ways – whether mishandling politically sensitive matters or issues related to sexual and gender based violence.

It is not uncommon to have multiple voices and narratives strewn by media but most seem lacking professional ethics and related protocols. It is also not uncommon to see that morning shows or even cookery shows drenched in a patriarchal display of ignorance often endorsed through religious affirmations.

This is not just limited to these infotainment venues but the pattern repeats itself in news and current affair programs as well. Whether it is a journalist and TV anchor sending ‘duroods’ to the Holy Prophet of Islam, and giving sermon on Abrahamic tales as feature of his political show and associated Facebook page, or another anchor reaffirming gender-norms or using gender-blind terms, this display of misogynistic-dogmatic character sadly remains the mainstay of popular media in today’s Pakistan.

The Kasur child-abuse incident whilst not only being a very sad incident, has also unearthed so many dark facets of our society yet again. Just a few weeks back the ‘Al-Bakistanis’ were busy cursing the evil west, highlighting their moral degradation in wake of equal marriage bill in the U.S and narrating tales of Lot and Gommorah. However, during bouts of vomiting rainbows on Facebook and playing pious cursed anyone who suggested to rather look inwards before pointing towards the morality deficit of others.

Leaving public aside, let me shift the attention to our media maestros again; although misquoting notable personalities, misinterpreting historical incidents, errors in commenting on geography, international law and human rights is hardly picked by most members of public, their latest take on the child-abuse issue was not only shocking but revealed the casual and callous attitude of these media wizards. One of them went on to call the abuse a ‘normal happening’ and routine feature of village life! But what was to follow was even more shocking since it involved the understanding of an issue as sensitive as ‘consent”. The particular T.V guru and his side kick casually talk about the cases of sex with children in Kasur to be somewhat consensual! I believe that this is not a statement can be ignored since this particular Mister-Know-it all has quite a fan following in the country and amongst the Pakistani diasporas.  Sadly it is these commentators that have produced a narrative so unique of its kind that it is regressive and exploitative at the same time. Consequently such impactful voices bear a negative impact on any possibilities of developing a public discourse.

Whilst those who are involved with social issues or have the time and zeal to expand their knowledge through various medium including the worldwide web, will know that:

“Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society…”

What is Child sexual abuse and what it constitutes can be understood by some of the following examples:

  • Fondling or touching a child's genitals or other private parts.
  • Having penetrative sex with a child including oral with a penis or any object that doesn’t have a valid medical purpose.
  • Having a child touch and/or manipulate an older person's genitals.
  • Using a child in pornography.
  • Showing X-rated material to a child.
  • Having sex including masturbating in front of a child.
  • Forcing child to have sex with another child.

In the eyes of law a person's consent to sexual activity, who did not understand what was happening (and so could not give informed consent such as a small child or someone suffering from a severe mental disability) does not apply. Same is the case where the person giving consent (including through use of violence or coercion or tricked into sex) who may understand the act but is under the established age by law such a adolescents. Hence consent is an important part of sexual interaction between adults but in case of minors, especially those under the age 16, it is imperative to note that consent cannot be used to justify a sexual act.

Hence, what was being referred to on television by a particular commentator regarding consensual sex in the Kasur Child-abuse case is not only preposterous but drenched in sheer ignorance.  What may appear on videos or otherwise as seemingly consensual sex could be a result of coercion, drug impact, blackmailing or sheer lack of understanding of the child as to what was being done to him/her. Even in the absence of these factors, informed consent of the child is of no relevance to justify the act.  

It is not surprising that bullying and sexist attitudes are prevalent around the country and teamed with perpetual chest-beating machoism, it is not considered improper to display one’s manliness through misogynistic behavior as exhibited whilst calling the case of child abuse as a routine happening. This indeed takes a far more serious turn when this perpetual misogyny becomes embedded in society to an extent that it even influences customary laws and those drafting legislations. Any efforts or protest by civil society is immediately discarded as involvement of a foreign hand or a threat to our delicate social fabric. Routine checks on one’s nationalism and adherence to religiosity are another means to keep a certain mind-set in surplus and conveniently used when needed by those in power.

Interesting to note is the definitions and discussions surrounding various offences in the Pakistan Penal Code where rape is referred to that of a male perpetuating sexual violence in the form forced intercourse with a female and where the child abuse or rape of adult male is not referred to.  This together with religious voices conflating child-marriage as well as forced marriages albeit appearing arranged have further complicated matters. In addition, a society where rape is often considered to be brought on to ‘herself’ by the victim either due to her lifestyle, clothing or mannerism, little hope remains that such sexist and inherently patriarchal attitudes will change much.  In fact common reference to this acts are being referred to as those depriving children of their ‘izzat’ – doesn’t that sound familiar?  However, the concern should be providing survivors of this horrifying experience with the required psychosocial support they deserve.

In addition it is important for those who are dealing with such cases directly or indirectly be it politicians, social workers, law enforcing agencies or media persons, to exercise extreme caution.  Talk shows hosts are busy discussing child sexual abuse issues particularly with regards to this specific incident with politicians and other personalities and future remedial policies. However many of them lack the expertise or knowledge about child sexual abuse. An example is declaring in a talk show that the perpetrators of this incident are pedophiles and hence require psychological support which is over-simplifying and in fact confusing the matter. Whilst the involvement of pedophile(s) cannot be ruled out yet, there are clear indications that perpetuators conducted sexual violence for various reasons including monetary gains.  Hence, commenting on specifics of such issues should be best left to experts in this field.  Nonetheless public can benefit if discussions focus around creating an enabling environment for survivors to seek help without fearing reprisal or resultant ostracization by society. Furthermore, ways to mitigate the impact of such incidents on survivors and their families is another key area where both public and those in a position of power can help. It is important that at a point where this incident that has presumably shaken the nation, political point-scoring is avoided and as public representatives should direct their energies to deliberate on pending resolutions regarding child protection and welfare. And as far as media houses are concerned, it would be worthwhile if they spend more time sensitizing their anchors and commentators on various contemporary concepts.