Fix the flaws – Khalid Bhatti


We are shocked, angry and emotional at the brutal gang-rape of a woman on the motorway link road in Lahore. Women-led protests took place in all the major cities of Pakistan against this crime and the insensitive statements of the CCPO Lahore, who thought it fit to blame the victim.

We were shocked and angry when Mukhtaran Mai was gang-raped. We were shocked and angry about the brutal rape and murder of seven years Zainab in Kasur. We show our anger after every brutal rape, murder and abuse of women and children that gets highlighted.

The disturbing fact is that, despite all the outrage and protests, the number of rapes and murders of women and children are on the rise. Some good laws have been made to protect women in the last two decades. But unfortunately these laws have failed to reduce these crimes. The reason is that these laws are never fully implemented.

Every case, from Mukhtaran Mai to Zainab, exposed the loopholes and shortcomings in our policing, prosecution and criminal justice system. So far nothing has really been done to plug the gaps in our system.

Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif was seen ‘proudly’ telling the National Assembly that he established the Dolphin Force to fight crime. Can he tell us with the same pride that he established women and children protection units in the Punjab Police? Did his government appoint female investigating and prosecution officers in Punjab to deal with such cases?

What efforts did he make in his 10 years of rule to reform the police and to bring some gender balance in it? The colonial police force and structure is male dominated. The ‘thana culture’ needs to be changed. The inclusion of women at every level of police structure will help change the macho culture of police.

What we need is specialised, properly trained and gender sensitive female and male police officers to investigate rape and abuse cases. Every district and tehsil headquarter hospital must have properly trained female medico-legal doctors.

We should have initiated a national registry of sex offenders to maintain proper record. We should come out of this ‘ostrich’ mentality. Such heart-wrenching incidents of abuse and violence against children and women are taking place across the country. But the response of our governments and ruling classes clearly indicates that they have failed to realise the magnitude and severity of the situation and are still in a state of denial.

Child abuse and sexual crimes against women including sexual harassment at workplace and at the campuses have become a menace and to be tackled properly. We need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and abuse at every level of society. We need to learn the necessary lessons from these cases and draw up a national plan to stop the rape, abuse and harassment. We need action not mere statements and empty promises.

After the outcry of the media and civil society, the CCPO finally apologised for his statements. But the question is whether he has changed his views or just retreated under pressure. And there are many in Pakistan who share the same views about rape victims and survivors.

How one could forget the statement of former military ruler Gen Musharraf in 2005: “You must understand the environment in Pakistan … This has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”

Later, the former president tried to distance himself from his earlier statement and said in a press conference in New York that he had been “expressing a commonly held opinion rather than his own.”

This mindset is more widely spread than we really think. It persists because it is the easiest way to cover up the failures, weaknesses and callousness of the system. This mindset simply shifts the blame on the victim instead of looking into the root causes of the increasing number of rapes of women and children.

We rightly expressed our anger and emotions through protests, social media posts and statements against the brutality, but with time, everyone will gradually forget about the horrific crime.

However, my real concern is that we are again going to miss an opportunity to make child abuse, sex crimes against women and the general plight of children and women in our society a part of the national discourse.

Economic and social structures and centuries-old traditions discriminate against women and girls, causing long-term harm to their maternal health, resulting in low female literacy rates and affecting their decision-making abilities. Moreover, poverty has helped create a criminal divide in society whereby the plight of poor children and women goes almost unnoticed.

It is often said that statistics don’t paint a clear picture and can be twisted either way. But figures regarding the plight of children and women provide a clear picture of the horrific conditions faced by children and women of the poorer sections of society.

Every day, 11 children fall prey to sex predators and paedophiles nationally. Child abuse is increasing at an alarming pace but there is neither a policy nor a mechanism to address this. Nor are our governing elite serious enough about wanting to take it up.

We are not ready to accept the basic fact that our economic, social and class structure needs to be changed. This system and structure is not providing for the poor, the working class and the marginalized – and it is children and women who are the most exploited and repressed among them.

The writer is a freelance journalist.