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Shortage of trauma centers for sexually abused children

Shortage of trauma centers for sexually abused children

By Sumeera Riaz

Published in Newslens

Lahore: Child abuse is a common evil in Pakistan and according to various reports,  thousands of children are sexually abused in Pakistan every year but there are not enough trauma centers for them.

Child abuse is one of the many phenomena that are considered a taboo in Pakistan, hence it is not discussed openly. One such recently reported incident, (referred to as ‘the Kasur incident’) painted a harrowing picture, and what’s more terrifying is the lack of rehabilitative services available for victims of child abuse. Matters of child abuse are very conveniently swept under the rug with no thorough investigation following the incident, experts believe.

Government institutions do not take the required measures to keep incidences of child abuse at bay, and fail to understand the fact that it has a knock-on effect on the psychological well-being of a child, which explains the absence of effective trauma centers.

The Kasur incident  has once again underscored the need for trauma centers to provide immediate help and support to children who had to suffer through such menace. The most appalling fact was the number (or lack thereof) of trauma centers available for rehabilitation of the victims.

The prevalence of child abuse and the neglect associated with it, is difficult to measure since such incidents remain largely unreported. Although there is no population based data available, studies conducted at micro level indicate the high magnitude of the issue.

Official statistics acquired by the police indicate that the prevalence of child abuse and neglect is difficult to measure, since the majority of these incidents go unreported due to the strong social stigma associated with them.

According to the data collected from official sources, 30 cases have been reported in Lahore this year, 15 cases in Peshawar, 35 cases in Rawalpindi, and 17 have been reported in Karachi so far.

Dr Ghazala Arif, a psychiatrist, said that traumatized children are four times more likely to subject themselves to self-harming episodes or suicide attempts. They also experience 20% additional lifetime trauma, as opposed to their peers.

Child Protection Bureau Chairperson, Saba Sadiq, told News Lens Pakistan that there were a mere ten trauma centers available in Punjab. “We are providing psychological, medical and rehabilitation services to sexually abused children” she said, adding that the Bureau is also conducting workshops to raise awareness among the masses regarding such matters. However the above quoted figure, claimed by the Child Protection Bureau, is minuscule compared to the magnitude of the situation.

Dr Javed Akram, Vice Chancellor, Shahid Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto University in Islamabad, expressed his dismay regarding the lack of trauma centers which exclusively deal with sexually abused children. “I have no knowledge of the existence of such trauma centers, but I believe that these trauma centers should be in every district hospital,” he told News Lens Pakistan, adding that if there are 38 districts of Punjab, the number of trauma centers should be equivalent to the number of districts.

Dr Akram revealed that the situation is quite prevalent in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, and a large number of cases remain in the dark. He stressed upon the need for special help for sexually abused children in regards to medical, legal and financial matters. Their families also need counseling that instructs them about how to cope with children at home. “I doubt that there is a single trauma center available in Punjab or any other province where such facilities are being provided to children,” he noted.

SPARC Research Coordinator Zarina Jillani, also discussed the scarcity of trauma centers which possess the expertise required to handle sexually abused children. “According to our data, there are thousands of cases which go unreported due to lack of awareness and the taboo linked with this phenomenon.”

Wasif Mehmood from UNICEF said that their organization supported the drafting of the Child Protection Law, but the lack of interest by successive governments did not see its implementation.

“Neither the government has done anything substantive on the issue, nor has it paved the way for the capacity building of NGOs working on child abuse cases,” he lamented.

It is clear that there is an extreme dearth of trauma centers in Pakistan. Despite this, the government and the non-governmental organizations are busy being at odds regarding their statistics and the magnitude of this problem.

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