As I sit by the window of my office, perched on the fourth floor of one of Pune’s busiest commercial areas, I observe a little girl around 9 years old in her school uniform, with a packet of chips, run along the newly constructed footpath and as I smile at her innocence, I watch her disappear in a narrow lane. For some untold reason, my heart sinks. A full five minutes later she emerges again, this time with a flower in her right hand. Although I have never seen her before and may never see her again, my heart is at peace. She is Safe.
On 10th January, an innocent child was led away to be brutally raped and murdered. Her name was Zainab. Within minutes the news broke the internet and a hashtag #JusticeforZainab began doing the rounds. Most people took to their favourite forums, changed their display pictures, employed the use of terms like black day etc. and the news ended there. Out of the ashes of this story, there arose another in our homeland where as many as six rapes were recorded in Haryana between January 13 and 18. Again, all that people did was resort to various social media forums, vent their anger and frustration, journalists gave it a political Midas touch and the blame game began.
Today January 19, 2018, nothing has really changed. The steam has died down. I realise it was just another chapter in “Breaking News.”
While all raved and ranted about how these inhuman beasts are out free on streets, not one offered a solution. Instead, the topic of debate ranged from how parents carelessly leave their children to fend for themselves, how the child willingly went away with the rapist and so on and so forth. Perhaps if at least one news channel or news daily had taken up the initiative to put out an awareness program that talked of solutions for parents and safety of children and run it on a daily basis given the viewership and readership numbers maybe they could have become the unsung heroes for some other young victims who could be allured into an abyss of perpetual darkness. Unfortunately, that doesn’t get the money in, does it? And hence we stick to problems and more problems. The day we have no problems we will create one. In reality, the media is a severely under-utilised weapon in changing the collective consciousness of people today.
Interestingly, though it is not only the media to blame this time around. One of the more painful offshoots of the death of Zainab was that a lot of people took to Twitter to share how they had been sexually molested or harassed as children which basically means that the problems of sexual abuse of children have not seen a sudden spurt in reality, the problem has been around but we the people had resigned to fate adhering to the cardinal rule “Keep Shut- Stay Safe.” Now as much as I appreciate those who stood up and talked about it, albeit a little too late, the problem persists and not one has spoken of a noteworthy workable solution.
Make no mistake, this is not a Pakistan problem. This is not an exclusive Indian reality either. This is a global reality. According to the National Children’s Alliance, in 2015, Nearly 700,000 children were abused in the U.S annually of which 40% were victimised by their own parent or care-giver and 90% were abused by close acquaintances. If the statistics were taken at face value it makes up ¼ of a child’s elementary school class.
So what really is included in child abuse and neglect? According to an article on Save the Child, “Abuse and neglect is defined as “injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child”. It must be circumstances that indicate that the child’s health, welfare, and safety is harmed.”
Sex education was a part and parcel of our high school curriculum but the way things are panning out it is becoming increasingly important that parents and teachers of the primary schools share the onus of creating awareness in our young ones. Although sex education is an important first step as responsible parents and teachers it is essential to read between the lines and build a rapport with our children enough for them to trust us. As per various researchers, children who are facing sexual abuse or are victims of any other forms of abuse showcase extreme temperaments with half of them either becoming unnaturally quiet in school and at home or exhibiting unnatural temper flares. Even their academics takes a severe hit. If only parents and teachers establish a rapport with their children, listen to them and take cognisance of their problems, we will be able to see a stark reduction in numbers. It is essential for all schools to hire in-house psychologists who will act as friends rather than counsellors to these young ones. This could help identify more perpetrators of crime and bring them to justice.
Another miserable reality is that the justice system has not been a favourite in any of the cases of sexual abuse and assault. It is imperative for the Guardians of justice to establish their credibility especially in matters like these, in society, otherwise, we are bound to see more Zainabs in our homes and neighbourhood.
To say that we are living in difficult times is a gross understatement. We are living in a society where we cannot decipher normal from the pervert and that is the disturbing part.
The most important solution to the problem of child abuse is that witnesses of these crimes and spectators and observers who have even the slightest information that could help the case must come forward to enable the speedy delivery of justice. The mentality of, “Don’t get involved because you will get into an unnecessary mess,” is detrimental to our existence now. The trust deficit between the citizens and the guardians of justice must be repaired on an urgent basis.
- GR Madan in his book, Indian Social Problems (Sixth edition), wrote:
“If the maladjustment is not to the extent that society can still move towards social progress and the social organisation is still intact then these disorganising forces must be considered as a part of the normal dynamics of social life.”
We cannot allow Rapes and murders to become a normal dynamic of social life. We cannot allow our young to become victims to sexual predators and we cannot say we are progressing as a community and as a race if we cannot protect the very existence and dignity of our young.
If this article has not yet appealed to your conscience then its time to turn back to a more important debate on a 14th-century queen and the violation of her dignity in reel. So what if a young girl or woman’s dignity is at stake in the real world!