Lahore: Supporters of Pakistani Awami Tehreek hold the posters of Zainab Ansari, an 8-year-old girl who was killed in Kasur, during a demonstration to condemn her brutal killing in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. A Pakistani official says a serial killer may have been behind the rape and murder of the young girl which has sparked deadly clashes between protesters and police.AP/PTI(AP1_13_2018_000103B) Image Credit: AP

Pakistan is outraged. In the city of Kasur in the province of Punjab, 6-year-old Zainab Amin was recently kidnapped, raped multiple times and strangled until she breathed her last. Her mutilated body was then thrown in a dumpster. Her parents were in Saudi Arabia for Umrah during this time, and just like any other parent, praying for the best for their daughter. Little did they know what they’d be returning to.

Pakistan is a place steeped in conservatism: there still exist families who pray for the birth of a boy. To put things in context, Pakistan is the fourth worst country for women, with Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen taking the lead, according to rankings of the Women, Peace and Security Index, released last year.

It ranks 130th on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index, and stands at number 143 out of 144 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.

According to The Express Tribune, more than 720 incidents of sexual violence have been reported from Kasur in the last three years. This was also the 12th case of sexual abuse of a child reported from within a two-kilometre radius in the past 12 months. The girls were 5 to 8 years old and medical reports confirmed that they had been sexually assaulted before being killed. Another important highlight comes via a regional police officer in Kasur that the DNA in five of the city’s sexual abuse cases was the same, pointing to the same perpetrators.

Last week has been rough. On the day Zainab’s body was found, another case from Faisalabad in Punjab took spotlight. A 15-year-old boy Faizan, who had gone missing, was reportedly raped before being killed. Hence, it isn’t only the girls at risk. A day later, a body of a 16-year-old girl was found in Sarghoda in Punjab who also went through the same. Moreover, reportedly a 13-year-old boy was intoxicated, and sexually assaulted by two men “belonging to an influential family” in Sargodha.

What one fails to understand is the shock the nation is in ever since they heard of Zainab. Because it isn’t a first. We, Pakistanis, have the tendency to forget the bloodiest, most gruesome of incidents and prefer to move on.

In 2015, police busted a gang running a child sex ring in Kasur’s Husain Khanwala village. The gang had allegedly abducted and assaulted at least 300 children — boys and girls — since 2006. Reportedly, a prominent family there has for years forced children to perform sex acts on video. The footage was sold or used to blackmail their impoverished families.

When the media questioned Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah on the Zainab tragedy, he said: “A child’s safety is its parents’ responsibility”. The commentary by some on social media has also been endorsing this statement. Zainab’s parents are being blamed. These views started to prevail when a CCTV footage of Zainab and the kidnapper went viral. In it, Zainab was holding a man’s hand and not resisting as they walked. Apparently, she knew the man.

According to Sahil, NGO working on child protection, as many as 11 cases of child sexual abuse are reported from across Pakistan every day. In the first six months of 2017 alone, 1,764 cases of child sexual abuse were reported.

People are out protesting in not just Kasur but other cities of Pakistan. The Chief Minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif, is also angry and like all other leaders he too states that he will not rest until justice is served. Clichéd to say the least, the military leadership has also condemned it. So have other political leaders, as well as celebrities and all others who the masses look up to. But days have passed and the rapist(s) has not been found. Under the Pakistan Penal Code, Section 375, “whoever commits rape shall be punished with death or imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years or more than 25 years and shall also be liable to fine”. Furthermore, when rape is committed by two or more persons in furtherance of common intention of all, each of such persons shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.

Although there have been multiple cases in which the culprits were put behind the bars, how has that brought an end to the rape “culture”? The fact is that time’s up, Pakistan. Something must be done now. Even if the rapist(s) of Zainab are found and get capital punishment, something must be done to ensure nothing of this nature happens again.

Family ‘honour’

This is just one of the few Zainabs whose story has been highlighted and the family is not backing down. So many stories go unreported because families consider it against their so-called “honour” which remains a big problem here. Perpetrators are at ease in this regard because they know that after their multiple wrongdoings, only a few cases will get media attention, whereas the rest will be buried by the victim’s family.

Moreover, the word “sex” which is till date a taboo topic, where sex education is not a part of the curriculum as it apparently “pollutes the young brains” — this mindset needs to change now. Parents need training more than ever on how to educate their children in this regard and that it is normal and for the safety of their own children. Until the society isn’t ready for rigid changes, no one will be able to do anything for the betterment of the country.

Sheema Khan is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan. Twitter: @sheema_kh