There’s no definitive profile of a child abuser. They come from all kinds of social, economic, educational and religious backgrounds. They live among us, and more often than not, they are likely to be an acquaintance. But one thing is evident: abusers prey on vulnerable children with low self-esteem.
“It’s so important to praise your child. Because if you don’t, one day an abuser will and that’s how they lure them,” warned Manizeh Bano, the executive director of Sahil—an NGO that works on child protection. “Learn to listen to your children. Give them confidence and believe them.”
Bano was speaking at Catwalk Event Management and Productions’ conference on Saturday titled ‘Stop Child Abuse’. NGOs such as Sahil and Auhung, lawyers, psychiatrists, artists and actors had gathered at Avari Towers Hotel in Karachi to create awareness about the menace of child abuse in our society and discuss means of prevention.
“There is no age you need to wait till to talk to your child about these issues. As soon as they understand ‘yes’ and ‘no’, that’s when you start,” said Sarwat Gilani, actor and ambassador for Special Olympics Pakistan.
“Just take out 20 minutes and listen to your child and their needs daily. But it should be quality time, free from distractions like phones and tablets,” advised Dr Fawad Suleman, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Child Health (NICH).
Dr Suleman mentioned the signs of abuse a child might show: loss of interest in daily activities, social withdrawal, poor academic performance, unexplained anxiety or aggression and frequent illnesses.
He said that 50% of stomach pain issues in children are related to an underlying psychological disturbance. What’s alarming, he said, was that there were only four trained child psychiatrists in Pakistan to treat victims of abuse.
But signs of abuse aren’t always easy to spot, especially if the abuse isn’t physical or sexual in nature.
“Non-violent abuse is invisible and intangible. It can ruin a child’s potential and disable them for life,” said Javed Jabbar, a writer and former senator and federal minister.
Non-violent abuse includes emotional abuse and neglect, which usually begins at home. And research has shown that dysfunctional homes often produce more abusers, as some victims of child abuse may themselves go on to become abusers.
“We should have rehabilitation centres for abusers, before they become high-profile rapists,” said humanitarian, activist and singer Shehzad Roy.
Roy’s ‘Chal Parha’ initiative had highlighted the issue of corporal punishment in public schools. However, he said he had recently learned that Islamabad had still not accepted the bill on corporal punishment.
“We have no database on sexual offenders,” Rabiya Javeri, Secretary at the Ministry of Human Rights, informed the audience. “The ministry is working on developing a protocol for what to do when you lose your child.”
Javeri explained that 22 million children were currently out of school, and these were the most vulnerable to kidnapping and molestation.
Rana Asif, child rights’ activist and head of Initiator Human Development Foundation, stressed the need for a national and provincial child protection policy. Other panelists and speakers at the event also reiterated the urgent need for a uniform, cross-sectoral policy and social awareness.
The reported cases of child abuse have increased by 11% from in 3,445 in 2017 to 3,832 in 2018, statistics by Sahil’s report ‘Cruel Numbers’ show. More than 10 children are abused every day. Of these, 47% are said to be relatives, 43% acquaintances and only 7% are strangers.