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Centre of learning or hub of sexual crimes? Exposing the dark side of religious institutions in Pakistan

The government officials and authorities in Pakistan see the allegations of sexual abuse in madarsas as an attempt to malign the religion and clerics and nothing else.

Irony dies a thousand death when Pakistan, where 1,000 women killed every year in honour-killing, minorities persecuted to the extent of extinction, 200% rise in domestic violence cases in just 3 months, manages to get elected as a UN Human Rights Council Member. As many as 21% girls married before the age of 18 and child sexual abuse has plagued the country.

Pakistan, an UN Human Rights Council member needs to get its own house in order before preaching the world about upholding Human Rights and treating citizens with utmost dignity. Recently, a cleric from Peshawar was awarded death sentence for raping a minor inside a mosque. This has unearthed shocking details about child sexual abuse in religious institutions in Pakistan. 

It is not uncommon to find cases of even young boys being raped in religious institutions of Pakistan. One such harrowing incidence covered by the Associated Press in 2017 exposes the plague that has infested the madarasas. 

“I was crying. He was hurting me. He shoved my shirt in my mouth,” the boy says, using his scarf to show how the cleric tried to stifle his cries. 

“Did he touch you?’” He nodded. 

“Did he hurt you when he touched you?” ″Yes,” he whimpered.

“Did he rape you?” Yes said the 9 year-old boy burying his face in a scarf and crying profusely as reported. 

The report said that 100s of cases of sexual abuse have been reported against Islamic clerics but most go unreported as the fear of clerics and militant religious organisations is deep rooted. The police are offered money to not pursue the case and the courts asks the victims to ‘forgive’ and accept monies in return. The pressure is real as even the police officials do not dare to expose this nexus fearing the end result.

The report further states that in 2004 alone, Pakistan officially reported 500 complaints of sexual abuse against young boys in madarsas and other religious institutions. Drugging and gang raping a 12-year-old boy asleep on the rooftop of a madarsa or a 10-year-old boy forced to have anal sex by the madarsa principal are a few other horrifying crimes reported. 

However, the government officials and authorities in Pakistan see this as an attempt to malign the religion and clerics and nothing else. Do not forget, this country is an elected member of UN Human Rights Council.

You may be surprised to know that there exists a website in the 21st century which teaches Imams what sexual abuse is and how to deal with such cases when the oppressed Muslims come to them with such complaints. They need to be educated on the meaning of sexual crimes as much of it is passed as rights given to them to do so. This was made evident by scores of reports published by ABC News on atrocities against women in the Muslim community, that the all-men Imams of the community encourage women to oblige to ‘light beating’ by men on misconduct as stated in 34th verse in chapter four of the Quran (4:34).

Men are qawwamun in relation to women, according to what God has favored some over others and according to what they spend from their wealth. Righteous women are qanitat, guarding the unseen according to what God has guarded. Those [women] whose nushuz you fear, admonish them, and abandon them in bed, and strike them. If they obey you, do not pursue a strategy against them. Indeed, God is Exalted, Great.”

While the caretakers of religion argue that most verses have been subjected to misinterpretation, on the other hand, absolutely no efforts are taken to curb sexual abuse cases especially against minors. 

In another incident reported by a frail looking 8-year old boy from Kohistan district, it was learnt that the boy was held prisoner for two days by the cleric, raped repeatedly until the cleric feared he would die examining his sick condition and took him to the hospital. While the cleric was arrested, his fellow-clerics and worshippers of the mosque refused to believe the charges and portrayed him as a victim of anti-Islamic elements. This surprisingly is the standard operating procedure, where even the villagers choose to believe the clerics and request the victim to forgive and move on. 

While Pakistan’s penal code continues to criminalize same-sex sexual conduct, as many as 704 boys were sexually abused in just the first half of 2020. These statistics were produced by Sahil, an organisation working for child protection which also revealed 785 girls fell prey to sexual abuse in just 6 months. The facts just gets uglier as the report reveals the major categories in the cases included abduction (331), rape (160), sodomy (233), gang rape (69) and gang sodomy (104). Thirteen boys and 12 girls were murdered after sexual abuse while four boys and one girl were murdered after gang rape. 168 children went missing from homes while there were 51 cases of child marriage and in 98 cases the age of the victims were between one to five years. 

This unfortunately is just the tip of the iceberg. Fearing severe consequences most cases of sexual abuse in Pakistan go unreported. While Pakistan has been debating tough punishment for rape and child sexual abuse, it all seems like a hogwash seeing the increasing number of cases and no justice being served.

Remember, Pakistan is an elected member of UN Human Rights Council. 

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