22 Nov 2017
Rampant sexual abuse of children in Pakistan's madrassas
Religious organizations and police individually enjoy great power, but when combined, the mix can be lethal, especially when there are children involved.
An Associated Press report has revealed sordid details about a massive sex-abuse scandal behind the closed doors of Pakistan's madrassas.
Clerics, cops, even government officials are involved. At least 20 lakh children are vulnerable.
And forcing victims to stay quiet isn't hard.
Pakistan's madrassas and clerics have a wide, pervasive network
Pakistan's 22,000 madrassas are self-regulatory: there's no body to supervise functioning. About 3,000 aren't even registered with the government.
In their society, clerics are powerful. With increasing donations, sometimes even from abroad, their power has only increased.
It is unsurprising that in many places, they own the police, even some politicians, and are supported by militant religious outfits.
And the number of sexual abuse cases is alarming
Sexual abuse is anyway a taboo topic, and when there are madrassas involved, they're even more hush-hush.
AP found 359 reported cases against clerics in newspapers of the last 10 years, "barely the tip of the iceberg".
In 2004, an official claimed over 500 registered complaints of sexual abuse against boys in madrassas.
According to a government official, madrassas are "infested" with sexual abuse.
But the victims' families are hindered by several factors
Almost the entire system works against such victims. They have no money, while cops enjoy huge payoffs from clerics.
In the rare event a case gets registered, police insist on witnesses/evidence, both hard to arrange.
Sometimes victims are threatened with blasphemy laws, which could bring them the death penalty.
After all this, they're forced to go back to madrassas for free food and education.
A legal provision to pay victims off doesn't help
What makes it easier for clerics to evade justice is blood money: an amount paid to the victims' family to forgive the offender.
Often, the families find it easier to forgive abusers rather than carrying on a seemingly-pointless fight.
In a rare case, a cleric in Punjab was sentenced to 12 years' jail and fined $1,500, but only after going scot-free several times before.
With some assistance, the criminals can be brought to justice
The towns of Kehrore Pakka and Rajapur saw three cases in madrassas recently: a 9-year-old, a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old were raped by teachers, former students and principals.
But Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousaf insists it isn't widespread.
IA Rehman of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission claims everyone knows what's happening.
However, with no help, what can those poor children and their families do?