By Shahana Shah
The most recent case of an eight year old child’s abuse and murder has elicited a strong social response in Gilgit city. There have been protests in the streets as well as a lot of debate in the social media. All of this is a good indication of our collective conscience. However, we need to go a step ahead and do something practical that might help prevent such events in the future.
Usually we hear criticisms of the police and the legal system for their failure in delivering justice. Yet, it is the collective responsibility of all social institutions to fight crimes against vulnerable sections of society such as children, and particularly in the case of sensitive issues like sexual abuse. Even if one child is molested, harassed or abused, the blame would equally rest with all of us.
What are some of practical steps that can be taken in this regard? The social institutions most responsible for the emotional as well as physical safety of children are schools and the family. It is time parents realized the importance of having frank and informative conversations with their children, both about their own sexual growth and the dangers that may exist in their environment. Children must be taught to recognize threatening situations. They must be able to identity predatory behavior and taught defensive responses.
Our schools also need to counsel young boys and girls, if not as a regular part of the curriculum then as specially held sessions, engaging psychologists and other experts. Teachers can play a very useful role by staying vigilant and responsive to any harmful activities that students in their care might be involved in.
One very significant error to correct is our society’s fault in assuming that since we ensure maximum segregation of sexes at schools and social gatherings, it is enough to protect the morality of young men and women. Our children must realize that unwanted attention and contact can just as easily come from their own gender as from the opposite sex. In fact, this intense segregation might be one of the reasons behind compulsive predatory behavior resulting from sexual frustration.
Another probable source of triggering sexual offenses is unsupervised access to communication media, whether it leads to contact with dangerous individuals in real life or in the virtual world. Parents must be vigilant against pornography. They must know who their children hang out with and what they do when they get together. Here again we usually see a negligent attitude towards male children’s activities while severe observation of girls’ movements and activities is the norm.
Both girls and boys are equally vulnerable to sexual predators. In most cases the offender is someone the child knows from his or her close social circle or extended family. This menace can only be fought if we stay vigilant and realize that it is the responsibility of us all to protect children. There can be nothing more evil than a crime against children, and nothing more worth protecting than their innocence and life.