Child sexual abuse: impact on health and society -Express Tribune

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It is a commendable decision on the part of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa cabinet to introduce death penalty for child abuser. But the continuous incline in health issues related to child sexual abuse cases needs extra attention. A national master plan is direly needed to extensively control as well as adequately report child abuse cases and overcome its deteriorating repercussions on child health.

According to Unicef, every child must be protected from violence and exploitation. They must be provided with safety and a clean environment. Child sexual abuse is one of the most shameful and hateful of human rights violations. According to the data provided by child protection organisations, on average, more than 10 children are subjected to sexual abuse every single day in Pakistan. A total of 1,896 cases of child abuse were reported during a period of six months from January to June 2021. Of those 1,896 cases, 1,084 were of sexual abuse. Cases of sexual abuse are grossly underreported because literacy rates and awareness of the law is low in many parts of the country. Moreover, a large number of sexual abuse cases go unreported because of the fear of social stigmas attached to the victims and their families, hinting that the actual number of such cases in the country is much higher. People fear the delays in investigation and suppression of cases due to which most cases remain neglected.

Child labour is considered to be a major factor giving rise to child abuse in Pakistan. Sexual exploitation for those involved in child labour is so common that many children end up complying or hiding it with distress. These children eventually develop severe mental and physical health issues. Research has revealed that child abuse majorly affects the development of brain and predisposes children to a high risk of mental as well as physical problems later in life. Such children will be more likely to become addicted to drugs to relieve themselves of their anxiety or be involved in violent crimes. Children who have gone through this trauma find it difficult to regulate their emotions. Over the past twenty years, child abuse has been scientifically associated not only with mental disorders but also with poor academic performance, joblessness, physical disabilities, poor health, ischemic heart disease and even stroke. According to a study, a nearly 20-year reduction in lifespan was reported among those who had gone through abusive experiences in their childhood.

Effective screening strategies for sexually abused children must be developed and implemented nationwide. Healthcare professionals must be adequately trained to treat such patients with extra care and privacy because children’s claims of sexual abuse are less likely to be believed and most cases go unnoticed even by their own families. Pakistan lacks facilities for effective screening of cases, collection of evidences and verification of allegations. Pakistan does not have enough forensic laboratories which causes delays and hence encourages criminals. The incumbent government needs to ramp up efforts not only in one province (K-P) but throughout the country to deal with the growing crisis.

Awarding the death penalty to abusers will surely develop fear but simultaneously parents must be taught how to protect and communicate with their children. Such awareness programmes must be held on a mass scale in both rural and urban areas of Pakistan to infuse the spirit of child protection. Awareness strategies must be designed and propagated by the government for the protection of children in academic schools, religious education platforms, public places, and even at homes. Discussions on child abuse must no more be a social taboo, rather these discussions must be encouraged for the sake of our children’s safety.