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by Newsweek Pakistan

Conference on the Protection of Childhoods aims to eradicate stigma associated with child sexual abuse

The inaugural Conference on the Protection of Childhoods (CPC) will take place on March 17, 2019, at the Alhamra Arts Center, Mall Road, with five back-to-back sessions dissecting various aspects of child sexual abuse, from the trauma suffered by survivors to avenues for their rehabilitation and the legal remedies available to them.

The one-day conference will run from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. this Sunday. Registration for participants will commence at 12 p.m. and continue till 1, after which attendees will be directed to Hall 1 of the Alhamra Arts Center for the official launch of the conference.

The prevalence of child sexual abuse—often whispered about but rarely discussed openly—in Pakistan was brought to the public’s attention in 2015 when reports emerged from Kasur’s Hussain Khanwala village alleging around 280 children, between the ages of 10 and 14, had been sexually abused by a gang of 20-25 men over several years. Parents who tried to stop the menace were threatened into silence with blackmail. But while the Kasur tragedy started a long-overdue conversation, it quickly faded into the background as the news cycle moved on.

Three years later, in 2018, the public’s attention was brought into focus once again with the rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab Ansari, also from Kasur. The brutal nature of the crime jolted the world, sparking a nationwide movement against child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this too proved shortlived.

Sahil, a non-governmental organization working on child protection, noted that 2,322 cases of child sexual abuse were reported between January and June 2018 from all over Pakistan, or roughly 12 children suffering abuse daily. These shocking statistics highlight the very real threat faced by children in Pakistan, with their abusers often experiencing no repercussions as they tend to be well known to their families.

The Conference on the Protection of Childhoods aims to eradicate the stigma surrounding child sexual abuse by encouraging survivors and their family members to speak out, stop sheltering abusers, and seek legal and medical help to overcome the trauma associated with abuse. The conference’s first session will tackle this head on with a discussion on the trauma experienced by survivors of child sexual abuse, including testimony from two survivors. This will be followed by a discussion on the rehabilitation services available to survivors with Sarah Ahmad, the chairperson of the Punjab Child Welfare and Protection Bureau, and child psychiatrist Sheheryar Jovindah.

The third session of the conference will highlight senior officials tackling the role police can play in stopping child sexual abuse, including the investigation and prosecution of abusers.

The penultimate session of the CPC will focus on the legal recourse available to survivors, including the thoughts of former judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia Robyn Layton, who is a vocal champion of social justice and human rights.

The final session of the inaugural session of the CPC will focus on the media, its coverage of child sexual abuse in Pakistan, and what can be done to ensure the topic does not get sidelined when the news cycle inevitably moves on. Non-governmental organizations and their work in protecting children will also be highlighted.

The conference will end with a qawwali performance scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

The CPC is grateful to the Alhamra Arts Center, the Human Rights Protection Center, Newsweek Pakistan, the Insaf Students Federation, the Positive Pakistan Foundation, legal news and analysis portal Courting the Law, and Wuklaw for their support in organizing its inaugural edition.

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