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For Pakistani activists, a rape culture places no value in children

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Lahore (AsiaNews) – The rape and murder of Zainab, a seven-year-old girl whose body was found in a dump in Kasur, near Lahore, has sent shockwaves across the country. For many activists, failing the country’s children has brought shame.

The outrage caused by the child’s death is particularly directed at the police, who failed to mount an adequate search even when they knew that the she was missing.

In the meantime, the gruesome details of the murder have been made public in the last few hours: broken neck, signs of torture, and seminal fluid and mud on the body.

AsiaNews spoke to a number of activists about the cultural background that has fed a “culture of rape”, such as gender divisions, misogyny, abuses in madrassas, which victimise children who become perpetrators as adults.

Child sexual abuse has become an epidemic in the country. People have become experts at fooling themselves that there are more important things to occupy their time. Without normal, happy childhoods and safe neighbourhoods, children lose everything.

For writer Naseem Kausar, “This issue has some deep cultural roots that present female gender as weak and subservient. The culture is responsible for restrictions on the social mingling of both genders in daily activities, which creates frustration that lead to brutality like rape and eventually murder.”

“The same pseudo religious culture has restrained people from suitable participation in activities related to art, like music, dance and singing. Engaging in art is the best way to channel feelings of deprivation, depression, and social injustice, which our society has faced for decades. The outcome is explicit and takes on the form of Zainab’s and Mashal Khan’s tragedies.”

“Pakistan is a conservative and male-dominated society based on patriarchal values. Boys and men find very rare opportunities to interact with girls and women,” said Muhammad Zubair, activist and programme manager at the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK). “Sex out of wedlock is a sin and a crime. Since sex is a basic instinct in human nature, boys and men are driven to commit such acts out of frustration.

“Obviously, this is no justification for the Kasur incident but it is a cause for such violent and inhuman acts. There may be other safe option for sexual satisfaction. But this thing only comes through sex education, which is considered taboo in Pakistan. Boys and girls, particularly children, need to learn about safeguards and preventive measures to defend themselves against sexual advances.”

According to Rojar Noor Alam, programme director at Caritas Pakistan, “people in Pakistan are shocked and grieved. Every parent can see their child in the eyes of this child, whose innocence was violated, beyond redemption. Ignoring abuses in madrassas helps produce deranged rapists.” And this can “play havoc with the mind and sexual preferences of the victim! Sadly, victims become perpetrators.”

“I hope one day to see all madrassas in Pakistan transformed into happiness centres, with libraries for children, where dancing, painting, and music are taught. We should let children know that the True God lives here and that God is but unconditional love and happiness.”

Michelle Chaudhry is also “beyond horrified”. For the president of the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF), the government must “ensure the safety and protection of our children.” This means that “accountability is essential; those responsible must be punished in order to prevent such incidents from recurring.”

To this effect, “We at The CICF stand for a terror-free society, where every child is safe and protected, where childhood is allowed to evolve into progressive adulthood”.

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