What The Murder Of Zainab Ansari Can Teach Us About Preventing Child Abuse

What The Murder Of Zainab Ansari Can Teach Us About Preventing Child Abuse

Activism and prevention begins with each of us, and we must look out for one another.

The taboo topic of child sexual abuse in Pakistan has gained nationwide attention with the murder of 7-year old Zainab Ansari in Kasur, Pakistan, which has sent waves throughout the country, sparking protests and massive public outcry. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the case, Zainab Ansari was a child who was kidnapped and later found raped and murdered in a heap of garbage. It was discovered that she had endured torture during her captivity before being ultimately strangled. The perpetrator, Imran Ali, was arrested almost 3 weeks later based on DNA testing and found to have raped and murdered at least 8 other girls within that neighborhood, confirming him to be a serial killer.

In the immediate aftermath of this incident, many activists and citizens claimed that Zainab would be another victim in the common trend: That the case would be discussed and dissected and analyzed on morning shows and political programs, that her killer may even be caught, but that ultimately nothing would come from this case other than a sensationalized public and media response. Part of me feels that they are right. It has been almost two months since Zainab’s case made headline news and forced us to confront the stigmatized topic of abuse within our society. Yet I am sorry to say that she was not the first nor will she be the last victim of such depraved acts. And although it is encouraging to see the topic getting attention and being discussed (because that is one of the first steps to making changes), I am sorry, yet not surprised, to say that little has been done to prevent future incidents and to address the underlying issues in our community that are associated with child abuse. Yes, Imran Ali has rightfully been sentenced to death, but does that do anything to end the cycle and focus on the core concerns that we should have?

I have been doing an internship in Karachi with an NGO called Konpal, an organization which fights against child abuse and neglect. Throughout my work in Karachi, I have worked with children of various ages who have been victims of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse as well as neglect and maltreatment. The experience has, to say the least, been incredibly heartbreaking yet insightful and empowering for myself as an activist. Drawing from this background, I will discuss some of the important aspects of child abuse that we as a community need to be more aware of and the types of action that we must take.

A common question and theme of discussion that comes up when I’ve met with professionals (medical professionals, teachers, etc.) in Pakistan is exactly what course of action should be taken if we suspect or become aware of a case of child abuse. I’d be lying if I said that it sometimes seems futile to consider reporting or taking any course of action, since we don’t have the law on our side in regards to child safety. However, the process has to start somewhere, and the more people who report and take note of cases of abuse, the more awareness the subject gains and the more it is taken seriously. It takes awareness and condemnation from society for any type of change to be made---legal or social. It is also a good idea to contact NGOs in your area; many of them can provide counseling and legal services as well as aid in placing the child in a group home, if necessary. But it is essential that we as citizens step up and take that first initiative. Be proactive.

First of all, it is vital that we train the people on the front lines within the community, not just the parents. People within the medical field, lawyers, teachers, coaches, tutors (espicially religious tutors), police officers, etc. need to be aware and alert of the signs and symptoms. Often times, they are the ones who are able to tell if there is something amiss with a child. Since abuse is such a taboo subject and there is not as much awareness as there should be (although this is continually improving), addressing it can be a long process.

The biggest obstacle that we face is that unlike countries such as the US, UK, Australia, etc. the law is not on our side when it comes to prioritizing the safety of the child first. In those countries that have child protective services, in which the government has the authority to remove children from the home, children have a safety net that holds both their guardians and child protective services accountable for their actions. Medical professionals, teachers, are trained to be vigilant for signs of abuse or neglect. And if they have any suspicion or proof of it, they are required by law to report it to the authorities. There are not severe flaws in the system when it comes to underfunding and gaps in the structure of foster care as well as other policies, but at the very least there is a functioning system.

In Pakistan, children cannot be removed from the home by police or government authority; there could be a case of ongoing physical abuse being committed by a parent or other family member and still all we can do is report it; little legal action can be taken. An extreme example of this was shown in the 2016 film Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh, where the main character (a survivor of childhood sexual abuse herself) discovers that a student at the school she works at is being molested by a member of her family. She goes through all the right steps, informing both the school and the police, and yet nothing can be done because there no legal standing. Since the system failed, she has no choice but to take extreme action and kidnap the child and raise her as her own. Yes, this is a film and therefore it is dramatized but all of it does still essentially boil down to the fact that oftentimes legally our hands are tied.

But that does not mean that community action cannot be taken. We as members of the South Asian subcontinent boast with pride about our collectivistic society and extensive extended family support system (all of which is important and to be admired), and we are known for our strong base when it comes to family values. And yet when an indisputable case of child abuse comes before us, the entire community loses no time in developing a blind eye, as well as a sudden case of amnesia. They don’t want to get involved. They’ll talk about it behind the family’s back, condemn the actions in private, shake their heads and perhaps ponder aloud why someone would do such a thing, and wonder what would become of the child. But they themselves will not take decisive action, due to shame, stigma, and not wanting to draw attention onto themselves.

Do not misunderstand me: I understand the crippling stigma and shame behind child abuse within our society. Many even argue that it is kinder not to draw attention to the child as it could get them labelled or ostracized within the society. Calling out their abusers and publicizing the maltreatment of the child may ultimately do more harm than good. And I understand the mentality behind this: Our instinct is to protect our children. But sometimes in the wake of protecting our children, we also protect the people who have hurt them. Each case is different, so I won’t say what is the right or wrong course of action to take with regards to calling out the culprits in child abuse cases. I will, however, say that whether we decide to prosecute or not, the privacy and the physical and mental safety of the child must be given top priority. The child must know that they have done nothing wrong, that they have nothing to be ashamed of, and that they have nothing to fear. This can be assured whether the offender is brought to justice or not.

In the case of 7-year old Zainab Ansari It is also important to emphasize that sheknew her killer, Imran Ali, and even trusted him. While various media outlets have reported different stories regarding the relationship between the two (some say that Ali was her cousin, while others say he was a family friend/distant relative, and still others say he was someone who just happened to live in the neighborhood), the bottom line is that this child was friendly with and known to the man who murdered her. And this teaches us an important lesson about child abuse that many within our society do not like to accept: That many of the perpetrators of child abuse hunt where they are trusted. It is a hard truth to swallow for our South Asian community in particular; we literally live by the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.”. We come from large extended families and close-knit insular communities, where everyone knows one another and trusts on another. There are very few “strangers”, people unknown to us, that our children interact with, especially in small towns and villages. Therefore, the first people who must come under suspicion in cases of abuse are the immediate and extended family and friends of the child and their family. It is psychologically very difficult to even consider that someone we know could inflict harm upon our children, and yet within our community those are the people most likely to do so. While we don’t know the nature of the relationship of Imran Ali with the other children he killed, it is quite possible that he may not been able to harm so many of them had the community been able to accept that offender was someone they knew or were familiar with.

My aim here is not to criticize or denounce collectivistic societies and insular communities; indeed, I am proud that our culture puts such strong emphasis on family values and looking out for one another. I just feel that we need to be consistent in this practice, extending it to subjects which we may not have thought needed our attention. Serious matters like this are where we must be the most vocal. The trauma alone that such abuse inflicts should be incentive enough to want to shield our children.

In the wake of Zainab's murder, there was controversy over the idea of teaching children about abuse and prevention due to its graphic nature and the concern about the vulgarity of the topic. Parents and members of the community alike have vehemently opposed instilling such programs within schools and community centers, claiming such ideas would morally corrupt children from a young age. And I understand where they are coming from; as someone with conservation beliefs I certainly would not want my children exposed to things unsuitable for their age. However, it is important to remember that when we talk about making our children aware, we have no intention of spreading obscenity or revealing anything sexually explicit. The idea is to instill age-appropriate programs which teach our children about their own personal safety and decreasing their vulnerability to predators. An excellent example of this was shown several years ago in an episode of Aamir Khan's program Satyamev Jayate regarding child sexual abuse.

In one segment, Aamir Khan is sitting with a group of young children teaching them about good touch vs. bad touch, and what to do if a stranger or even someone they trust touches them in a way which makes them feel unsafe, such as yelling, running away, and telling their parents. This method is both informative and effective, while keeping in mind the ages of the children and not revealing anything inappropriately explicit. In our culturally and religiously conservative society, it is possible to preserve those values while making our children aware and giving them tools to protect themselves.

In the present situation, it is not always realistic to expect help and protection from the law. It is a cause that we as citizens must take up together. We have to look out for one another and each other’s children, be proactive in protecting them within a cultural and religious context. Our collectivistic society should live up to its name and guard our children from harm. We also have to fight back the ingrained instinct to look the other way, whether out of futility, hopelessness, or stigma. If we want the problem to be addressed, the first thing we must do is change how we handle it if we want any action to be taken. I am not a pessimist; I have seen progress in this field and I do believe that with the right motivation and support, we can do a great deal to improve the situation. We have a chance to break the cycle and make a change, ensure a brighter and safer future for our children. We need only the courage to seize it.

Cover Image Credit: https://daleel.pk/2018/01/24/74324

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The 10 Most Important Things You Need To Know About Relationships

Without communication, there is no relationship; without respect, there is no love; and without trust, there is no reason to continue.

When you see an old couple holding hands or sharing romantic kisses while sitting on a park bench, doesn't that spark warm feelings of love and happiness in your heart? Doesn't it make you think about how they maintained their relationship for so many years when couples you know have trouble making it past six months? And of course, some people are not made for each other and so their relationship just simply doesn't work. But then there are couples who give up the minute an obstacle comes along, which makes you think their relationship wasn't truly important to them in the first place. What everyone has to understand in order to preserve a strong, happy, and prosperous relationship is that love is colorful, and the same kind of love doesn't exist for everyone. Being in a loving relationship that continues to thrive, I'm going to share some of the few things that I believe should exist between two lovers who want to sustain their prosperous relationship.

1. Communication

Communicating with your partner is essential. I'm sure you've heard it before, but communication is key. If something is bothering you or what your partner wants to do isn't what you're interested in, say something! Neither you nor your partner are mind readers, so how are they supposed to know how you feel if you keep your feelings bottled up inside? Not speaking up and communicating your ideas, feelings, desires, and wants is unhealthy because one day you might blow up and say some things you'll either regret or feel sorry for saying. Communicate to find a middle ground in your relationship because it's unfair for one person to constantly accommodate the other. Relationships cannot grow without communication, so don't be afraid to speak your mind and embrace your thoughts.

2. Trust and Honesty

A relationship cannot continue without trust and honesty. By being honest with your partner, they have no reason to doubt you or not trust you. Trust is vital in a strong and successful relationship because you don't want to think twice about what your partner says or does. Almost anything can be acceptable in a relationship as long as you're honest with your partner. Being in a relationship doesn't mean that everything else in your life has to change. You can still see your friends, go out, and be your own person, but be honest with your partner with whatever you do because by hiding something from them, you might be giving them the perfect reason not to trust you.

3. Forgiveness

No relationship is perfect. That's because none of us are perfect. People make mistakes in everyday life in the same way that people make mistakes in relationships. Of course, there are some things that are unforgivable, such as cheating on your partner (at least in my eyes), because it means that your relationship didn't mean much to you anyway. But, most things can be forgiven. Forgiveness is extremely important and necessary in a relationship because we have to accept and be reminded that we aren't perfect. So if I bailed on you because something important came up or you had a bad day at work and said some things to me that should have been directed at someone else out of anger, it's okay. Sometimes all it takes is a simple I'm sorry and I forgive you.

4. Respect and Appreciation

Without respect and appreciation, there is no love. How can you disrespect the one you love and care for? Exactly: it's hard to find an answer. Respect is the foundation of a healthy relationship. Respect your partner by choosing your words carefully, honoring boundaries, being willing to compromise, showing consideration, and protecting your partner. Make sure you're being respected by knowing your worth, acting honorably, setting and upholding boundaries, being a man or woman of your word, and showing respect for yourself. Appreciate your partner for who they are, the things they do for you, the support they give you, and the growth that they contribute in building your own identity.

5. Emotional Support

Real men don't cry is a load of bullshit. I have been blessed to be surrounded by a few strong and courageous men in my life who I've seen shed a tear or cry when losing a loved one or simply out of pure happiness. We all have emotions and though we try to hold them in check, those emotions sometimes boil over. In relationships, it's important to show emotional support for your partner, regardless if they are a man or a woman. So when your partner is going through a tough time or is struggling for whatever the reason might be, stray away from the pathetic Be A Man go-to phrase and be their shoulder to lean on. If your partner knows that you're emotionally there for them, they might have an easier time opening up to you in the future.

6. Humor

Sharing laughs and smiles with the one you love is extremely important. After all, being in a relationship is sharing your life with someone you care for, cherish, and have fun with. Being able to joke around and laugh with one another is extremely healthy for your well-being and the relationship. It's not just about fun and games, but it's also no fun to be so serious and stern about everything. Keep your relationship alive with some humor, adventure, and daily laughs to see the smile of your loved one!

7. The Magic of Small Things

The small things in life are actually not that small. There are times where the smallest deed can make someone the happiest and that's usually because the small things are the most thoughtful ones. Preparing breakfast when your partner is too tired or surprising them with an iced caramel latte on their way home from work can be enough to make their day. The small things really do count and they are remembered more than you might think. There's something magical in knowing that your partner feels appreciated and happy that they have the privilege of calling you mine. And the small things can do just that.

8. Sharing Interests

Having things in common with the one you love and sharing interests with your partner is perfect because neither one of you need to accommodate the other! There will be days where both you and your partner will not want to do the same things and a middle ground will have to be met, but sharing interests makes it easier when looking for fun things to do and finding things to talk about! Having a few similar interests like bike riding or playing football allows you and your partner to have your "thing," the thing that brings you two together. Liking similar things is also a perfect conversation starter, but also talking about your dislikes and things that you don't agree on can spark an intense and even more enticing conversation!

9. Celebrate Achievements

The happiness you feel because of your own achievements should be the same feeling you get when your partner accomplishes something they've been striving for, no matter how little it may be. Whether it be winning the Noble Peace Prize, having a 4.0 GPA, or hitting a new record at the gym, no achievement should go unnoticed. Being proud of your partner's achievements can strengthen your relationship and bring the both of you closer together.

10. Love and Affection

Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life. This might strike you at first, but what's the point of being successful, rich, happy or really anything else if you have nobody to share it with? Love is one of life's greatest gifts. It brings people together and allows them to build a life that some can only dream of. But sometimes love is not enough to maintain a prosperous and healthy relationship. That's because relationships aren't easy, people are so different from one another, and relationships take much effort and patience. But in the end, if you don't have love in a relationship, you really don't have anything. Take the time to show your partner some affection, to make alone time a priority. The kisses, hugs, and even sex is something that in the end does make a relationship healthy. But without love, all of that means nothing.

Every relationship struggles, but only strong relationships get through it. Take the time to focus on these ten things that are important in keeping the love alive and feelings between you and your partner strong. And most importantly, remember that no one falls in love by choice; it's by chance, and no one falls out of love by chance--it's by choice.

Cover Image Credit: Marika Cygert

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8 Types Of People Fetuses Grow Into That 'Pro-Lifers' Don't Give 2.5 Shits About

It is easy to fight for the life of someone who isn't born, and then forget that you wanted them to be alive when you decide to hate their existence.


For those in support of the #AbortionBans happening all over the United States, please remember that the unborn will not always be a fetus — he or she may grow up to be just another person whose existence you don't support.

The fetus may grow up to be transgender — they may wear clothes you deem "not for them" and identify in a way you don't agree with, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them a mentally unstable perv for trying to use the bathroom.

The fetus may grow up to be gay — they may find happiness and love in the arms of someone of the same gender, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them "vile" and shield your children's eyes when they kiss their partner.

The fetus may grow up and go to school — to get shot by someone carrying a gun they should have never been able to acquire, and their life will mean nothing to you when your right to bear arms is on the line.

The fetus may be black — they may wear baggy pants and "look like a thug", and their life will mean nothing to you when you defend the police officer who had no reason to shoot.

The fetus may grow up to be a criminal — he might live on death row for a heinous crime, and his life will mean nothing to you when you fight for the use of lethal injection to end it.

The fetus may end up poor — living off of a minimum wage job and food stamps to survive, and their life will mean nothing to you when they ask for assistance and you call them a "freeloader" and refuse.

The fetus may end up addicted to drugs — an experimentation gone wrong that has led to a lifetime of getting high and their life will mean nothing to you when you see a report that they OD'd and you make a fuss about the availability of Narcan.

The fetus may one day need an abortion — from trauma or simply not being ready, and her life will mean nothing to you as you wave "murderer" and "God hates you" signs as she walks into the office for the procedure.

* * *

Do not tell me that you are pro-life when all of the above people could lose their lives in any way OUTSIDE of abortion and you wouldn't give 2.5 shits.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is gay or trans, you will berate them for who they are or not support them for who they love.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is poor or addicted, you will refuse the help they desperately need or consider their death a betterment of society.

You fight for the baby to be born, but when the used-to-be-classroom-of-fetuses is shot, you care more about your access to firearms than their lives.

It is easy to pretend you care about someone before they are even born, and easy to forget their birth was something you fought for when they are anything other than what you consider an ideal person.

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