The prevalence of sexual violence against women and children in this Islamic republic is appalling, yet it finds no mention in the national discourse. According to data compiled by two NGOs, the Sustainable Development Organisation and the Centre for Research, Development and Communication, as many as 85 women were subjected to rape and nearly 108 children sexually abused across the country during the month of July alone. Punjab reported the highest number of women’s rape cases, accounting for 47 cases, followed by Sindh with 16 cases, whilst Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) reported 11 cases, Islamabad 10 and Balochistan just one incident. In the same period, at least 37 children were physically abused, 14 of them in Sindh, 11 in KP, 10 in Punjab and two in Islamabad, Balochistan had nothing to report. These figures are rather sketchy since they are based on cases reported by the mainstream media. Considering that a very small percentage of cases is reported to the police, the actual incidence of this horrendous crime is much higher.

Indeed, sexual violence occurs everywhere, but anything closer to the statistics cited above would have provoked a storm of angry protests in any civilised society. Not here. No one, including the religious parties claiming to be moral guardians of this society, have bothered to take notice of these or other reports in the past, let alone demands for remedial/retributive action. The usual attitude to such reports is that ‘it happens’. A major reason it happens is that a vast majority of the victims invariably belong to the poorest sections of society, and hence do not seem to matter. More often than not, they suffer in silence because they have no legal protection. True, the educated urban middle classes do raise voices of protest when such incidents occur, usually though when the victim is one of their own, which is rare. It is about time this state and society stopped tolerating outrageous acts of sexual violence against women and children.

Last year, the previous government enacted a law introducing chemical castration as a possible punishment changeable with life sentence for rapists, and also faster trials of suspected sexual offenders as well as registration of notorious suspects for better policing. The latter provision is important as most of such criminals are repeat offenders. But extreme punishments alone are not known to serve as deterrent. Besides, most of the perpetrators are able to act with impunity. Fewer than 3 percent of rapists are said to get convicted by courts. A better course of action, therefore, would be to look into the root causes of sexual violence that create an enabling environment for such crimes so as to take effective measures to address them. To that end, civil society needs to play its role by pushing all concerned to pay more attention to causative aspects of these heinous crimes than the punitive track.