*Today is International Day for Street Children, in light of this, we are highlighting the plight of street children through Zainab’s story. There are many, many untold stories, though. Let’s take this day to make a prayer for them, and research more around this topic and support charities working toward better lives for our children across the world.*
On the 4th of January 6-year-old, Zainab Ansari disappeared on her way to a religious studies lesson in Kasur, Punjab. Her body was later found, lifeless and brutalised in a rubbish heap, a mile away from her home in Kasur. But Zainab was not the first, and most likely will not be the last to be the victim of such a terrifying crime. In the last 12 months alone, 7 children have been raped and murdered in Kasur, along with 280 children being sexually abused on tape by 25 men only 3 years ago. Though the rape and murder of 6-year-old Zainab Ansari has sparked deadly riots spanning across Pakistan, and whilst there are chants and sentiments exclaiming that this cannot be allowed to happen to another child, there remains little confidence in this expectation. A less than mediocre police force along with a country plagued with corruption, allow a breeding ground for such vile predators, and there needs to be a monumental shift in Pakistan’s governance to ensure that something concrete is done to change this.
Zainab, we failed you. We failed you because we allowed for a system of oppression to rule over you. We failed you because we were and still are enablers of this system. We failed you because we did not and still do not take the objectification of women seriously. We failed you because we forgot. We always forgot when these harrowing incidents took place before – our sorrow lasted a few weeks or a few months, and then it was gone. And it is our forgetfulness on these heart-wrenching issues that allows for them to happen again. We failed you because we are always too weak, too afraid, and too selfish to push for holistic change. We failed you, and nothing we do now can bring you back.
Morbid as it may seem, this is a reality that we must now wake up to and accept. Only through a cold and harsh realisation will we be able to make any sort of productive progression. We are failing as a society, and we need to find a way to change. No more abuse, no more rape, and no more killings.
Whenever one is lambasted for supposedly politicising a case like this, there is nothing that should be felt but outrage. This is an inherently political issue – state-mandated policies and government authorized operations are what allows for this culture, woven so deeply within the fabric of society, to prosper. The turmoil in the Punjab region where this heinous and inhumane crime took place needs to be addressed, parties must be brought to account, politicians, leaders, key social actors, whoever forms part of the governing body, they need to be questioned. They need to be questioned so justice can be delivered.
Nothing sums up this horror story better than the understanding that we are enablers because we uphold a system that revels and profits of the objectification, degradation, and morbid sexualisation of women. If we are to be outraged, then let us ensure that our outrage lives long enough to push us in advocating for change. Let us hope our outrage is directed not just at perpetrator of the crime, but also at those who allowed him to commit such a vile act, and still walk away free.
In addressing and accounting the male population, a Facebook post by Wassim Dourehi eloquently addresses how many of us are, in some way shape or form, to blame for the merciless and brutal rape and murder of little Zainab;
‘If we’re going to be (rightfully) outraged over the rape and murder of little Zainab, then let’s at least be consistent in our rage.
If we’ve ever been a consumer of porn, we’re to blame too.
If we’ve ever hit our wives, belittled our sisters or disrespected our mums, then we’re to blame too.
If we’ve ever catcalled a female, obstructed her movement or made her feel uncomfortable in any way, then we’re to blame too.
We males are the inheritors of a perverse culture that objectifies and degrades women. We act out a vile sense of entitlement every single day, believing women (and girls) exist primarily for our own gratification.
The porn industry rests entirely upon the exploitation of women. Not just in terms of the most obvious forms of sexual exploitation, but the exploitation that arises from male privilege, misogyny, human trafficking, economic disadvantage and male violence against women and children.
And in case we were too busy looking at our screens to see into the real world, the trafficking of women runs entirely parallel to the trafficking of children. The economic variables that sustain the former extend naturally to the latter; so much so, that you cannot have the former without the latter today.
Women and children go missing everyday on a scale that is hardly fathomable. Zainab’s case shocks us not because of the exceptional nature of this crime, but because our crimes have, this time, come back to stare us in the face. It reveals about us something we don’t like about ourselves, something we men rarely have to confront directly.
Zainab is not just another faceless victim, committed by a faceless perpetrator, committed in some obscure location. Its circumstances remind us our daughters could be the next victim, and indeed, we or somebody we know could be the next perpetrator. Sexual exploitation exists because a demand exists for its consequences. This demand is enabled by a culture that objectifies our women and reduces their existence to one of mere servitude. Whilst we may not all be sexual predators, we may all be enablers of a culture in which sexual predatory behaviour thrives.
If we are disgusted at the case of Zainab, let us first ask if we’ve ever disrespected a woman, objectified her or interacted with her with an overriding sense of entitlement. Depending on the answer, we might very well be disgusted with ourselves more.
It is high time that we as a community, as a society, recognised our shortcomings. It is easy to critique the past and take issue with things that took place 50 years ago. It’s easy to ridicule ‘society’ at large and disassociate oneself whilst sitting in our university ‘safe spaces’. But it is we who make up society, and it is we who contribute to its longevity. So, if we find that we have taken issue with the culture that enables these horrendous acts and the society that protects them, we need to also know that it is not enough. Know that you, me, all of us, need to harness the courage to account the institutions of power that allowed for this to happen.
A warning to the cowards who have kept such a mighty nation steeped in disarray and poverty; the public will only remain calm for so long; society will only bare so much for so long, and the water will only remain tepid for so long. There is no excuse for your inaction; there is no excuse for your lazy upkeep on such vital issues, and there is no excuse for your oppression of the people. When society does not like something enough, society will change it; and change is most certainly coming.
Afia Ahmed Chaudhry is a historian, writer, and postgraduate researcher. Her interests span social mobility, British Muslims, educational theory, pedagogy and curriculum development. She was recently published in the best-selling anthology It's Not About The Burqa, and has written extensively on British Muslims, Education, and ideology for an equitable society. She completed her undergraduate at SOAS, University of London, and later went on to study at King's College London and the UCL's Institute of Education. She is currently a postgraduate candidate for the University of Oxford in Learning and Teaching.
By Amaliah Anonymous