By Zara Maqbool
Since Zainab’s brutal rape and murder has come in the limelight, child sexual abuse has become a topic some people are comfortable to discuss now. There is discussion going on whether schools should create awareness on sexual abuse. Media is discussing this issue more openly too and seems like the censor board’s sensibilities are not as grossly affected as before. I have also heard interviews of a few celebrities sharing their personal stories. Most of the discussions revolve around how to save our children from the predators that roam around amongst us. They might be the children’s Quran teacher or the local guard or even the male servant working at homes. But how many of us have highlighted the abuser who maybe the father, the uncle or a close male family friend? We are warning our children not to greet a stranger but how many of us have sat them down and told them that ‘bad touch’ by a father or uncle cannot be ignored and discounted as a ‘good touch.’
Since becoming a counselor my perspective on life completely changed. Growing up in a protective bubble where we would cover our eyes when a ‘bad scene’ came during a movie or internalizing that bad things only happen to poor people because they are ‘jahil’, was my reality.
This field exposed me to many shocking stories of abuse and abandonment by primary caregivers. Where I heard many grown-ups sharing their stories of emotional abuse by parents, to my utter shock I came across daughters being sexually abused by their own fathers and where the mothers turned a blind eye to what was happening. How many of us are comfortable with highlighting this issue? No one, because it shakes us to the core and damages the idealized image we have of our parents.
Yesterday, I saw a mother slapping her maybe five years old son multiple times on the face. The mom was getting angry because he was distracting him for shopping I guess. I approached her and asked her why she was abusing him? I deliberately used the word abuse and the woman was shocked first and then very angry with me. She said how could I accuse her of such a sick thing? What stood out for me in her response was that for her, abuse was a sick thing and she probably meant that abuse could only be sexual.
Pakistani Parents consider hitting their children or the mind games they play with them as their God given right tuning them into adults with an impaired sense of self. Almost every client I see has been damaged at the hands of his or her parents. Who is going to hold them accountable? How will this five years old boy say ‘No’ to his own mother? Sexual abuse by a parent is an extreme and not that uncommon but not talked of and not reported. But physical and emotional abuse is very common and many of us see our friends and family members hitting our children and making jokes out of how we would send a shoe across the room and not miss our own child.
I am ashamed to admit that I was one of those parents too and I thought this was a right I could exercise as a parent till I was lucky enough to learn how damaging it would be for my children. Where I am proving them with the best and nurturing them with love and care, how my even rare incidents of losing my temper irrationally or an occasional slap can be counterproductive to all that I do for them day and night.
We can’t expect ‘child protective services’ opening anytime in Pakistani soon but let’s open our eyes and ears and interfere when we see a child being abused and not ignore it as their ‘ghar ka maamla’.