A couple of weeks ago, there was major uproar across Pakistan and of course globally across social media, regarding the sexual abuse and murder of a beautiful 7-year-old little girl residing in the Kasur area of Punjab, in Pakistan. This little girl went by the name of Zainab Ansari; a girl who in the innocence of her age probably didn’t know anything about sex, never mind having any idea about the horrific scenario that would unfold and take her life on that fateful day of January 4th 2018.
Seeing the image of this child circulated across social media in her purity and innocence, it is not too difficult for your heart to break. However, what has struck me particularly about this story are the responses I have seen not just from strangers on the internet, but also from people in closer circles to me in regards to the hashtag that came about as a reaction to the story: #JusticeforZainab.
I received a forwarded Whatsapp message from a friend that basically sums it all up. It read: “Please sign this petition for the public hanging of the rapist and murderer of Zainab Ansari.” I immediately closed and deleted the message, however with the words and the thought process behind it still lingering in my mind. I am trying to understand how or why people believe the public hanging of Zainab’s murderer will achieve anything? How is that justice?
I am of Pakistani heritage myself and I am well aware of the deep-rooted cultural, social and political issues that pervade the country and its people. The issues at play here are personally very close to my heart for reasons I do not wish to disclose right now, so I understand when people say they wish for the perpetrator to be captured and killed – this is the kind of response that comes at the surface level when you react immediately and angrily at something without giving it any deeper thought.
However, people who believe that this is how justice will be achieved need to realize that the sexual abuse of children in Pakistan is a commonplace, everyday activity happening in domestic environments, educational establishments and even in religious buildings, right under their noses with at least 11 children in Pakistan becoming victims of sexual abuse every single day. So the real question that arises from this heartbreaking story is why is the sexual abuse of minors so common in the Pakistani community?
I took to my own social media to delve a little deeper into this subject, and in all honesty, I was not surprised that 80% of people from the Pakistani community who took part in my online poll said they or someone they knew had been sexually abused as a child. Of these participants, the majority said that they or their family knew their abuser, which again, doesn’t surprise me as other major studies show that in around 90% of cases, the victim knows the abuser.
I wanted to go a little further however, and I asked, “Should the perpetrators of such abuse be punished or should they be helped?”: an overwhelming majority responded to the idea of punishment – with only 15% believing that the people behind such horrible crimes need to be helped.
Furthermore, when I asked if we collectively need to take responsibility for the abuse carried out by such people, only 20% of people said yes. What this information showed me reinforced what I already knew: that the majority of us are quick to condemn, judge and cast away people who we perceive to be criminals, regardless of the larger issues surrounding their crimes and regardless of whether such crimes continue to take place long after the criminal has been ‘punished’.
I know this is a difficult conversation to have as the subject matter is just so sensitive, and especially when such beautiful and innocent lives are destroyed because of it. But to achieve any change, we need to return to our root essence and remember that as a human race, we are all one – regardless of anything, including our crimes. After all, it is not the person who is bad - it is the action that is so.
There is a common running theme with abuse in all its forms and that is that more often than not, the abuser was once the abused. When we choose not to heal our past traumas and pains, the universal laws of the Universe bring those same situations back into our own lives and I, from the deepest part of my soul, know that this is one of the main reasons for many, many of the problems that we face in today’s societies.
Additionally, in Pakistan as well as in other countries, the talk of sex and even sexual abuse is still taboo. Sex is a subject to shy away from, to be tiptoed around and never spoken of. It is seen as something dirty and unnatural, when the plain fact of the matter is that it is through sex that we all came to be in this world!
This, in my opinion, creates unnatural, suppressed desires in people to the point where the pressure becomes too much, in turn leading to such heinous and destructive crimes. In regards to sexual abuse, again, such issues are brushed under the carpet making it difficult for anyone that is a victim to speak out.
I do not know why the rapist of this little girl went on to murder her and dump her body on a rubbish heap, but what I do know is that this is a man that was quite obviously deeply hurting, whether he was aware of it or not, in order for him to carry out such heart wrenching and unthinkable acts – especially on a child. After all, a person that is complete, whole and happy would never do such a thing.
So to end, I disagree with the majority of people who voted in my online poll. I know that the responsibility for these crimes and all crimes is on all of us as a society, and even at the personal and family levels, too. We need to address the root cause of why such acts are taking place and we need to start having conversations around issues that we have previously been too afraid to speak out about. When we realise that it is only together - through healing, love, understanding and forgiveness – that real change can be achieved. It is only then that there will be real justice for little Zainab.
Sabah Ismail is a 29-year-old British expat residing in Mauritius with her husband and two young children. She is a writer, artist and businesswoman with a positive outlook on life, believing deeply in the saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
This is her space each week to share her thoughts on life and current issues, as well as inspiration and motivation for living a happier, more fulfilled life.
Visit www.sabah-ismail.com to find out more and to contact her.