With over 30,000 madrassahs, they often serve free education, food and sometimes shelter to around 4 million poor children across Pakistan: Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters in 2019. 27,000 d ‘of them are registered with the government – 5,000 of which are now registered under madrasah reforms since 2019 – while the rest operate illegally. Given the current state of government-run primary and secondary schools, madrassahs are the most promising source of education for low-income families, in addition to for many the only sacred and safe space deemed indispensable. to receive the best religious and Koranic education. This is its essence, a madrassah is a proven institution that has served societies. Not so long ago, the madrassah produced some of the greatest minds and rulers.
Former President General Pervez Musharaf in 2002 even described the madrasas as “Pakistan’s largest NGO network”. Religious seminars in Pakistan are funded by individuals, political parties, and foreign states like Saudi Arabia. They often remain outside the control of the government. In an attempt to adapt the madrassahs to a modern education system and regulate their operation, numerous reforms are now being enacted to implement the unique national curriculum in registered religious seminaries. However, no regulatory body or accountability system is in place to prevent cases of child sexual abuse by clerics and persons with religious titles.
Sahil’s “Cruel Number 2020” report revealed a 17% increase in child sexual abuse in 2020. It showed that up to eight children are abused daily in Pakistan. The majority of reported cases involved a victim aged 6 to 15 years. However, children as young as 0-5 years old have also been victims of sexual abuse. Similar to the 2019 statistics reported in ‘Cruel Numbers 2019’ by Sahil, most of the perpetrators were acquaintances and fell into the category of service providers, including maulvi, teacher, doctor, and police.
Child abuse and physical abuse by religious and spiritual leaders in religious institutes is a pervasive, long-standing and neglected global problem. Patterns of child sexual abuse by clerics with justifications for abuse, the suppression of disclosure, the perception of child sexual abuse as a “private matter” and a taboo subject, and the grooming of children. religious character are similar to those observed by the Boston Globe investigating priests in the United States and – recently by a report – in France. According to a 2016 study, “Religion in forensic interviews on child sexual abuse”, the process of abuse often begins by targeting poor and vulnerable children. They earn the child’s trust by paying attention and offering chocolates or other inducements. This is followed by preparing the child with actions that the clerics justify by imposing their authority and / or because of peer pressure. Then comes a time when the child is the victim of physical or sexual abuse.
The case of “Mufti” Aziz-ur-Rehman is one of many incidents regularly reported in the newspapers, except that this incident was filmed and disclosed – causing an uproar on digital platforms which forced several clerics to make statements. public. However, investigating cases of child sexual abuse within Pakistan’s madrassah system is a thorny issue due to the close ties between the clergy and the police and the support of politicians and revered individuals. In a 2017 Independent UK Article on Islamic schools in Pakistan, Manizeh Bano – executive director of Sahil – said that 359 cases of child abuse by clerics and religious leaders have gained media attention in the past 10 years, resulting in is “hardly the tip of the iceberg”. These perpetrators are often more followed by fans, although they enjoy impunity due to loopholes in the criminal justice system.
The gap analysis conducted by the Legal Aid Society (LAS) in 2020 showed that it takes an average of 1.3 months to report cases of rape and sodomy. Although only a few cases of child sexual abuse by clerics are reported due to intimidation by religious institutes, research shows delay in reporting is being used as a tactic by defense lawyers to undermine the prosecution case. Any attempt to expose incidents of child abuse by clerics has come under heavy criticism from religious and political figures who discredit these cases as “attempts to slander religion, seminaries and clerics” according to Independent UK; therefore often causing delays / withdrawals of the case . A senior ministry official also told a Associated press (AP) investigation that “among the weapons they [clerics] used to frighten their detractors is a controversial blasphemy law that carries the death penalty if convicted.
It is absolutely necessary to take strict measures to prevent cases of sexual and physical abuse of children in religious institutes. First, all religious leaders must realize and recognize the pervasiveness of the problem. They must prioritize the creation and maintenance of a madrassa, a child safety institute. To this end, the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-Madaris, the Interior Ministry and the Human Rights Ministry should unite and establish an independent special committee aimed at creating a highly organized and efficient system. The hiring of religious teachers must remain a transparent and tightly controlled process. This could be done through the creation of a system of local governance within the network of madrasas, which should remain accountable to a special committee. So far there has been a pervasive phenomenon where the education and upbringing of children – especially in marginalized and neglected areas of our society – depends on poorly trained, psychologically disabled and sexually frustrated teachers in institutions. poorly equipped nuns teaching Islamic morals and values. Regardless of their contested educational standards and unclear ethical standards, these madrassah teachers must be held accountable to the committee, the judiciary, and esteemed religious leaders.
The committee should act as a mediating force between law enforcement, the judiciary and stakeholders within the madrassah system by ensuring that clerics accused of child sexual abuse are blacklisted and banned from teaching at any institute across Pakistan, if and when convicted. They must ensure that once reported, the family of a survivor is not subject to any reaction and / or discrimination or intimidation by religious leaders, the police or the justice system. The committee should also be held responsible for the implementation of laws on the protection of the victim and his family.
To this end, capacity-building training for police officers and judges before and on the job should be provided and their performance – especially in cases of child sexual abuse – should be strictly regulated. To improve the skills and gender sensitivity of GBV investigators (IOs) and trial judges, training should be provided that includes the definition and ingredients of the crime of rape under the Pakistani Penal Code (PPC) . Emphasis should be placed on identifying relevant sections of the CPC (in accordance with amended laws and acts) and the conversation about widespread victim blame should be heightened. The training should also highlight the medium and long term impact of rape and stress the need to adopt a victim-centered approach.
We often lament and curse these predators and the government for their continued inability to protect our young people, but once the hype drops we become indifferent to it. It is time for the government to take strong action to regulate the network of madrasahs and extend its support to survivors and their families. The government should not wait for the reappearance of another Aziz-ur-Rehman “mufti”. A public commission of inquiry must be set up immediately to ensure the absolute safety of children and revive the sanctity of religious institutes.