The ill and the innocent

The impulse to sexually abuse children is a psychological disorder and thus a sustainable solution does not lie in simply punishing the culprit -- be it before the world or inside the four walls of a prison

“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

These are the musing of Vladimir Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert in the novel Lolita. Humbert Humbert is a middle aged man sexually attracted to his twelve year old step daughter Dolores Haze.  To Humbert, the helpless child is an embodiment of desire. What Humbert believes to be an expression of his undying love, the reader knows for certain is sexual abuse of a child. Nabokov’s fictional protagonist resides inside many men in Pakistan today, most notably in Imran Ali the infamous serial child rapist and murderer.

For his heinous crimes, Imran Ali has been handed four counts of the death penalty, one life term, a 7-year jail term and Rs4.1 million in fines. Many demand his public hanging as a means of inducing morality in society.While Imran Ali deserves the worst possible punishment for his monstrous sins, a public death will not safeguard other children across the country. The impulse to sexually abuse children is a psychological disorder and thus a sustainable solution does not lie in simply punishing the culprit — be it before the world or inside the four walls of a prison.

While the likes of Imran Ali are criminals, and cannot be shown any sympathy, they are also individuals with an illness — and we must acknowledge this fact

Sexually abusing a child is not a crime every man can commit. Children testify a time of innocence. For a normal adult, they are incapable of inducing lust. On the other hand, Imran Ali sexually desired children– not women. He raped and murdered 12 young girls in Kasur between the ages of five to eight over a period of twelve months. When Zainab’s case garnered media attention,the prevalent issue of child abuse was once again brought to the forefront of a common man’s conscience in Pakistan. Debates began about what was causing men to commit the abominable crime and what should be done to keep children safe.

One view was that the incident validated the population’s sexual frustration engendered by living in a nation with prudish cultural norms; with very few opportunities to exercise their sexual urges, men molest children as they are an easy target.However, this argument fails when applied beyond Pakistan’s borders. There are many countries where dalliances are neither looked down upon nor are extremely difficult to experience. Yet, within such countries, young children have fallen prey to sexual abuse. According to a report by Wales and England’s rape crisis centre, 2651 children under the age 15 were sexually abused between 2016 and 2017. Consequently, sexual liberation of society is clearly not a solution to the problem. How then, can sexual abuse of children be prevented?

Civil rights activists and celebrities call for de-stigmatizing sexual assault. They encourage parents to speak to their children regarding the subject and demand that the topic be made part of syllabi. While this may reduce the risk of children becoming victims of sexual abuse to some extent, it will not curb the urges of a man seeking sexual gratification from a child. Driven by their desire, such men will always find cunning ways to lure children. Thus children across Pakistan will continue to remain at risk. While the likes of Imran Ali are criminals, and cannot be shown any sympathy,they are also individuals with an illness — and we must acknowledge this fact.

Sexual attraction to prepubescent children, i.e. essentially a boy or girl typically under the age of 12, is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as paedophilia. Consequently, Imran Ali’s conduct is not solely a crime; it is the manifestation of an ailment. His body seeks sexual gratification of a certain kind from little children. And there are many men like him residing in Pakistan. According to a report by NGO Sahil, eleven children in Pakistan become victims of sexual abuse every day. Thus, solely punishing one Imran Ali will not prevent these men from continuing their crimes.

You cannot easily induce the fear of consequences in a mentally ill individual. His actions are not governed by the logical clockwork of a normal man’s mind. A paedophile is driven by his urges. Thus the debate society must begin in light of Zainab’s rape and murder is one concerning mental health issues. Seeing a psychiatrist is still considered taboo in Pakistan. It is time we changed this perception. It is time people are able to accept their demons and get the help that they require.

The writer has a master’s in media with a distinction from the London School of Economics. She tweets @mawish_m

Published in Daily Times, March 5th 2018.