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Friday Jan 12 2018

Justice for Zainab, safety for other Zainabs

A girl holds up a picture of Zainab, a 7-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Kasur, during a protest in Islamabad on January 11, 2018.—REUTERS photo

There seems to be no easy solution or even an explanation as to what happened to Zainab, neither was the incident the first of its kind, but it still left the nation in shock.

The pertinent question here is: Will she and others get justice in such a faulty criminal justice system? Even if she does, can we save the others?

It takes us to remembering Zainab's words in her notebook: "I am a girl." It has lot of meaning coming from a seven-year-old.

Although we as a nation only react when something has happened, but Zainab's case raised two most important questions regarding prevention and punishment. What needs to be done to get justice for Zainab and save others like her? It seems that a rational not emotional debate and solution are needed to protect the future of Pakistan. It requires a constant effort on part of the successive governments and civil society, both for rural and urban areas. 

I still remember five tips given by a female principal of a private school to parents during a meeting at the time of admission few years back. The most amazing part was that she narrated her own story of her driver trying to molest her. She said, “I don't want what happened with me to happen to any other child. You as fathers and mothers have a responsibility which is to try to drop and pick your children yourselves instead of depending on others."

Her second advice was to ensure that your child understands who a stranger is. “Except for parents, brothers and sisters, and grandparents, all other relatives should be treated as strangers to an extent," she added.

She said, "Your child should be aware of people. He or she should not get close [to strangers] or go out without your instructions. I have noticed many parents leaving their children at the disposal of their domestic servants and drivers. This will make them vulnerable to others, which can be very dangerous."

Members of the civil society light candles and earthen lamps to condemn the rape and murder of 7-year-old girl Zainab in Kasur, during a candlelight vigil in Islamabad on January 11, 2018.—REUTERS photo

She even alerted the parents in a manner by saying that children should always speak to them about their teachers and any other unusual activities after they return home. The principal said that parents should also take notice if they observe something unusual in a child's behavior.

Rural areas and villages have their own dynamics and, in the last few years, there has been a rise in the kidnapping, sexual abuse, and killing of children, despite the presence of strong values and the joint family system.

While the ‘mohalla’ culture has vanished in urban areas, it is still strong in rural areas. It is not merely a question of 'education' alone, but also of how you raise your child and are aware of things in their lives.

When it comes to the recent tragedy, even if the culprit is a 'serial killer' or a child abuser and involved in some previous cases, how could he get away from the police for a whole year. The reaction of the people of Kasur was natural, but they also have to be more careful and need to be more alert so that such incidents can be prevented in future.

It was shocking that the elected MNAs and MPAs of Kasur, mostly belonging to the ruling PML-N, not once raised concern about the sudden rise of such incidents in their constituencies and the constant failure of the police and administration in doing something to stop rise in such crimes.

But it would also be wrong to politicise the issue to an extent that it is used as an anti-government movement. At least, one was expecting a much mature reaction from the the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as they are well aware of the fact that such crimes occur all over Pakistan.

It is not merely an issue of the government or the state, but as a society we all have a role to play.

If the political and religious parties, who are raising the issue of 'Justice for Zainab,' had launched similar campaigns in the past, at least some lives in Kasur would have been saved.

There are three tiers to save the children from evils in the society.

First is the responsibility of the state, which not only has the responsibility to have a strong criminal justice system, but also to provide an atmosphere in which families feel safe sending their children out to play or to school without any fear.

Children hold candles to condemn the rape and murder of 7-year-old girl Zainab in Kasur, during a candlelight vigil in Quetta on January 11, 2018.—REUTERS photo

'Rule of law' in a larger context has several meanings, including strong and professional police above all political consideration, speedy trial, and strong punishment. But trial and conviction come once the crime is committed. For the parents, much more important is the fact that their children are not subjected to such a heinous crime.

If the state or the government could not save 13 Zainabs and Bobby from one small city like Kasur in one year, then how can the Punjab government claim to have the best governance? Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah should be ashamed and feel guilty of their failure to save lives of so many boys and girls.

Our prisons are also not safe for under trial children, who often become vulnerable to the criminals as they go in one prison van, face the same courts and, at times, dangerous criminals 'use them'.

In the late 90s, at least 60 underage children were recovered during a surprise raid from adults' prison cells in Hyderabad prison, where they were allegedly subjected to sexual assault. The matter was later shelved, but some former jail officials confirmed that this is very common in prison.

What happened with little Zainab should not happen to another young Zainab. What happened to Bobby should not happen to other girls and boys. Even if Zainab gets justice, people should not stop taking precautionary measures.

The 'Justice for Zainab' movement should convert into 'Justice for all children'. No more Zainab, no more Bobby. Politics is supposed to be a public service and there is nothing wrong if political and religious parties raise this issue, but they also have the responsibility to come out with solutions, both for punishment and prevention.

We, as a nation, are guilty of remaining silent and only react occasionally. Make it different this time and do something better for a better society and a better Pakistan.

If nothing else, can the parliament come out with something concrete to save Pakistani children?

Saving our sons and daughters requires a multi-pronged approach, from a stronger criminal justice system to revival of our social and cultural values. As a Pakistani, I am guilty that I could not save Zainab, but can I save others?

—Abbas is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO TV, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO

Note: The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News, The News or the Jang Group

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