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Published:February 15th, 2011 11:22 EST
Parental Responsibility and Child Torture

Parental Responsibility and Child Torture

By Ernest Dempsey

As the news post shows, in two of these cases, children were tortured by a religious teacher who used a wooden object to break the bones of the children who used to go to them to learn Islamic lessons (which are in Arabic). In one case, the latest one, a 12-year-old girl died because of fractured skull while the other children also suffered seriously.


In a separate incident, a four-year-old was raped and then killed, apparently by strangulation, by a 17-year-old guy. All these crimes, while sending waves of fear and grief through their readers, also remind us of the parents`/guardians` responsibility in looking after them, including their safety.


In a developing country like Pakistan, where mismanagement and corruption loom large along with raging crime, one obviously cannot expect the state to ensure a satisfactory level of safety to its citizens, be they children or adults. It is left to the parents/guardians to keep kids safe from threats that are lurking everywhere. And more so in case of children who are obviously easy prey for sickness of mind and fits of aggression. In such a situation, an average parent would be expected to remain wary of their child`s whereabouts.


Yet, the above instances " and many others like these (many perhaps escaping public attention) " belie this expectation. Parents do not hesitate in sending their children to others` houses, unguarded and completely helpless, or to seminaries, where they are at the mercy of adult strangers. A four-year-old left outside alone in a place and times like these is akin to giving a potential killer nearly direct invitation to come and get its prey.


A strange aspect of the story is that most parents consider it their religious duty to send their child to some teacher who can teach them Arabic lessons despite that the child`s parents are Muslims and they can teach the basics of Islam themselves to the child at home in his native language. But since lessons in Arabic are considered source of excess blessings, children are sent to seminaries (many of which are also home-based in case of female teachers) away from the reach of parents/guardians, giving children into custody of strangers who can do them any harm.


Many poor parents also send their children to work at someone`s house, helping with household chores there, in order to bring home a little money that can be used to run the kitchen. And these children are at high risk of all kinds of torture. A shocking case of a minor Christian girl Shazia Masih was reported for a brief while in media early last year.


The girl, working at a fairly well-known lawyer in Lahore (Punjab), was murdered at the lawyer`s house as a result of extreme torture. The case was not followed by the media for long but, in the heat of the story, it was clear that her parents didn`t visit (or were not allowed to do so) their daughter for weeks, leaving her entirely at the mercy of the lawyer`s family, only because she would bring home money.


Who is to blame then, beside the active criminal who victimizes the children? Parents are naturally supposed to care for their children. They are supposed to worry about their children, and in such law-and-order situations as prevail in Pakistan, it should count normal to be filled with a little extra dose of fear about something bad possibly awaiting their child in company of strangers, or in situations where they are unguarded.


The worst that comes to my mind about the continuing neglect of parents/guardians in relation of their children`s safety is that their values of getting blessings and earnings through their children bypass their parental love and sense of responsibility. But a darker question is, do we have to convince poor parents that their children are not their burden but their responsibility? Isn`t that something parenthood is about?