The rape and murder of 7-year-old Zainab Ansari in Pakistan has allowed people to speak up about the rape they suffered as children. It often takes a great tragedy for people to finally say ‘enough’, ‘no more silence’, ‘no more suffering.’
Three female Pakistani celebrities (actor Nadia Jamil, designer Maheen Khan and PR guru Frieha Altaf) recently shared their experiences on social media. Their stories have caused an outpouring of support for Muslim women and children who have been raped, and their courage to tell their stories has emboldened others to share their experience with the hashtag #metoo.
Too often and as you would expect, when these horrific incidents occur, people are outraged. A lot of noise is made, the promise of action plans put forward to prevent the same thing happening again and then there is silence and all is forgotten. Little, if anything, changes apart from the fact that it is reinforced to people that the Pakistani community is rife with child sex abuse. But we don’t do anything about it. ‘It’s cultural’ seems to be the mantra that goes through people’s heads and therefore best dealt with by the community elders and the governmental leaders of that ‘culture.’
To be fair, there’s not much we can do to help children in Pakistan in order to keep them safe from sex abuse. Donald Trump has the appropriate response just now by withholding Foreign Aid to Pakistan based on the grounds that it is not much more than a terrorist state whoch harbours, breeds and protects terrorists. What sanctions can be placed on a country in order to make them stop abusing their children? This type of abuse isn’t just happening in Pakistan, it also happens in the UK but the community doesn’t talk about it.
Last year there was a video filmed in Pakistan and shared on Twitter in which a young girl was forced to give oral sex to a much older man. Many of us were disgusted that this had been uploaded onto social media, as every time it was viewed we had to relive the visuals of the little girl being abused all over again. There was no erasing from the mind once it had been seen.
Before the video was taken down there was a brief flurry of comments on social media and other outlets from people in Pakistan, the UK and the wider world from people of Pakistani heritage who all shared their experience of abuse and rape.
The abuse and rape occurs from family members (immediate and distant) as well as family friends and acquaintances. In Pakistan where there are many families who hire servants, drivers and cooks these can also be the abusers.
The mosque is another place where an alarming amount of abuse occurs. Children are sent there in the belief that they will be safe. A place where prayers are said and where the Koran is read should be a safe place but we know too well that places of worship and places where God is present are places where the most horrific abuses of children can and do occur.
Maulvis – Imams are entrusted with young children and many repay that trust by abusing and beating the children. Muslim children are rarely taught about ‘appropriate and inappropriate touching’ and so do not know what kind of touch is okay and what kind of touch is not okay. Even the children who witness the maulvi touching other children are not aware that the way they are being touched is wrong. It perhaps feels wrong to many of them but having no instruction on this subject and having no parents or family to go to in order to speak about this means the abuse continues.
Let’s hope that the murder and rape of little Zainab is the catalyst that brings about change. Let’s hope the noise doesn’t quieten and instead continues to grow until those in charge can no longer ignore our hashtags and voices and stories. Let’s hope this is the turning point to discuss the shame and honour-culture that prevents and hinders many from the Pakistani community reporting their abuse. And let’s hope it encourages families to stop covering up the abuse and making excuses for it and allowing it to flourish without any fear of the law.
Silence helps only the abusers. No more silence.