Child sex abuse in Pakistani religious schools continues unabated – The New Indian Express
PAKPATTAN: Muhimman proudly writes his name slowly, carefully, one letter at a time, smiling broadly as he finishes.
He is only 11 years old and was a good student who dreamed of becoming a doctor. School scares him now.
Earlier this year, a cleric at the religious school he faithfully attended in the southern Punjab town of Pakpattan took him to a toilet and attempted to rape him.
Muhimman’s aunt Shazia, who wanted only her first name to be used, said she believed child abuse was rampant in religious schools in Pakistan.
She said she has known the cleric, Moeed Shah, since she was a little girl and describes him as a habitual abuser who asks little girls to pull up their shirts.
“He behaved badly with boys and also with two or three girls,” said Shazia, remembering a girl the cleric brutalized so badly that he broke her back.
An investigation by the Associated Press found dozens of police reports alleging sexual harassment, rape and physical abuse by Islamic clerics teaching in madrassas or religious schools across Pakistan, where many of the poorest in the country.
The AP also documented cases of abuse through interviews with law enforcement officials, victims of abuse and their parents.
The alleged victims who spoke for this story did so with the understanding that only their first names would be used.
There are over 22,000 registered madrasas in Pakistan, teaching over 2 million children.
But there are many more religious schools that are not registered.
They are usually started by a local clergyman in a poor neighborhood, attracting students with the promise of free meals and accommodation.
There is no central ecclesiastical body which governs the madrasas.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has promised to modernize the program and hold the madrassas to account, but there is little oversight.
Police say the problem of child sexual abuse by clerics is pervasive and the dozens of police reports they have received are just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet despite dozens of reports, none has resulted in the conviction of a cleric.
The clerics are a powerful group in Pakistan and they close ranks when allegations of abuse are brought against one of them.
They have managed to hide the widespread abuses by accusing the victims of blasphemy or defamation of Islam.
Pakistani families are often forced to become “forgiving” clerics, said Deputy Police Superintendent Sadiq Baloch, speaking in his office in the northwest of the country, near the border with Afghanistan.
“It is the hypocrisy of some of these mullahs, who wear long beards and don the mantle of piety only to commit these horrible acts behind closed doors, while they openly criticize those who are clean-shaven, who are liberal and open-minded, “Baloutche said.
“In our society, so many of these men, who call themselves religious, are involved in these immoral activities.”
Police officials say they have no idea how many children are abused by clerics in Pakistan.
Officials said clerics often target young boys who have not yet reached puberty, in part because of the restrictive nature of still predominantly conservative Pakistani society, where the interaction of men with girls and women unacceptable.
Clerics, for the most part, had access to and trusted boys, who are less likely to report sexual assault.
Eight-year-old Yaous, from the remote Kohistan region of northern Pakistan, is one such boy. Yaous is small for his eight years. His features are light.
In an interview with the AP, with his uncle as an interpreter, Yaous’s little body shuddered as he recounted his ordeal. It was towards the end of December of last year ?? a vacation at the madrassa.
Most of the students were gone. Only Yaous and a handful of students stayed behind.
The other students had gone to wash their clothes and Yaous said he was alone inside the mosque with Qari Shamsuddin, the cleric.
The sexual assault was unexpected and brutal. The boy said Shamsuddin grabbed his hand, dragged him into a room and locked the door.
“It was so cold. I couldn’t understand why he was taking off my warm clothes,” Yaous said, his voice barely a whisper.
“The pain made me scream and cry, but it didn’t stop,” Yaous said.
The boy was held prisoner for two days, repeatedly raped until he was so ill that the cleric feared he would die and took him to hospital.
At the hospital, Dr Faisal Manan Salarzai said Yaous screamed whenever he tried to approach her. Yaous was so small and frail that Salarzai called him the “baby”.
“The baby had a lot of bruises on his body ?? on his head, on his chest, on his legs, so many bruises on other parts of his body,” Salarzai said.
Suspicious, Salarzai ordered Yaous to be transferred to the isolation room where he examined him, suspecting that he had been sexually assaulted. The examination revealed brutal and repetitive assaults.
The cleric was arrested and is now in prison. Police compared his DNA samples to those found on Yaous.
But despite the arrest, fellow clerics and worshipers at Madrassah-e-Taleem-ul-Quran Mosque in a remote region in northwest Pakistan are disputing the charges.
They say Shamsuddin is innocent, victim of anti-Islamic elements in the country. Yaous’ father Abdul Qayyum said he was ashamed he hadn’t spoken to his son more than three months before the attack.
“I want this mullah to be hanged. Nothing else will do,” Qayyum said.