Six-year-old Zainab's rape and murder has united Pakistan in a conversation about how to provide a safer environment for our children, but how much of this discussion is actually helping victims of child sexual abuse?
To answer that question, we watched Pakistan's hugely popular morning shows, which are significant platforms in that they speak directly to people who impact the lives of families, ie, wives and mothers.
So the responsibility on morning shows is also huge and what we had hoped to see was that the shows would give out practical information, like how to talk about sexual abuse to children, how to empower children to protect themselves, what to do if your child says that he or she has been abused and the like.
The good news is that many major morning shows like Good Morning Pakistan, Aap Ka Sahir and Salam Zindagi did dedicate whole episodes to Zainab's tragedy and carried out open discussion about child sexual abuse. At least, we agree that this is no longer an issue that can be swept under the carpet and we all need to take personal responsibility in tackling this heinous crime.
The bad news is that a lot of that conversation was marred by victim-shaming, incitement to violence and an overreliance on interpretation of religious scripture to find a solution to Pakistan's child sexual abuse epidemic.
Here's a breakdown of what the morning shows got right and wrong:
On her show Ek Nayee Subah with Farah on A Plus, morning show host Farah Sadya opened her show with a dramatic monologue set to wistful flute music. Her guest for the morning was Saba Qamar, and as Farah began talking about the horrific crime that Zainab had been subjected to both herself and Saba began weeping. But was it too much drama and not enough substance?
The good: As her monologue continued Farah called out the government and even NGOs for knowing that Kasur has a history of pedophilia and yet not doing very much to combat it. She also called out the establishment elite, saying that they only care about their own families and children and not for the population at large. She also pointed out how peaceful protests are not often tolerated by the establishment, and that is a reason why people don’t speak out against injustice.
Farah added how, in Pakistan, rape is not investigated properly. She touched on how there is little to no specimen collection from rape victims and that DNA testing is next to nil.
Government corruption was a theme that ran throughout the show, with Saba Qamar asking rhetorically at one point: “How much money will be enough? These private planes, these brands, you can’t take them to the grave with you.” The guests present also lamented how few political leaders even deign to present themselves for a national assembly session, let alone to fight sexual abuse.
Another positive is that Farah and her guests discussed that children should be taught from a young age that there’s a difference between good touch and bad touch. Farah’s male guest described how his wife insisted that he give his sons a lecture on sex education, and though he felt uncomfortable at the time, he realised it was necessary to protect them. This fairly open conversation was refreshing to see on air.
The bad: The host and her guests often spent more time talking about what impact Zainab’s rape and murder had on them – rather than talking about Zainab’s family or addressing sexual abuse in a constructive way. “I didn’t appear on this show for TRPs (ratings), I don’t want any money,” said Saba Qamar at one point. “I was so upset I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep.” While we don’t doubt this is a heartfelt reaction, we also feel time onscreen could be better spent.
A striking negative was that the show as a whole was structured like an informal discussion at home. Farah and her guests hopped back and forth between themes like corruption and pedophilia without any recognisable agenda or aim. The show aimed to appeal to viewers' raw emotions using tears and descriptive language, but it didn’t provide information or instructions about how to organise communities to protest. It didn’t even provide contact information for organisations that spread awareness about sexual abuse.
Nida Yasir took the opportunity to address Zainab's rape and murder on her morning show Good Morning Pakistan last week. Nida invited celebrity mothers; Muzna Ibrahim, Sadia Imam, Fiza Ali, psychiatrist Uzma Ali and police officer Shehla for a well-rounded discussion of child sexual abuse.
Nida started her show with an emotional monologue dedicated to the 6-year-old, her mother and all the children who have fallen prey to sexual abusers. It then moved towards a conversation with guests, who made some interesting and important points, but also sent some worrying messages.
The good: Nida's efforts to cover all grounds relating to child abuse should be appreciated. She a) invited a psychiatrist to assess the mentality of abusers and how to spot one, b) a police officer to explain what one must do in cases like Zainab's, c) parents of other missing children and victims of rape and violence, d) and held a discussion with celebrity mothers on how to best tackle such a situation.
Most importantly, during the course of the show, Nida and the celebrity guests shared their stories of childhood harassment. It's key to lend your voice to a cause, especially from influential people in the media industry, it's also a nod of acknowledgement for viewers who have faced harassment that that they are not alone. It also helps remove the stigma that harassment should be kept hush-hush.
Though the segment was not organised, a few positives did come out of this, namely talking to children about sex education (good touch, bad touch), what a parent-child relationship should be reflective of and how to work towards a positive one, not to trust anybody with your child and always be aware of their behaviour around others, starting a community watch rather than solely relying on the police or government.
The bad: Fiza Ali's monologue as Zainab's voice was unnecessary dramatised to invoke an emotional response from the audience, much like screening footage of Zainab's body and her parent's interviews - they served no purpose in the programme.
What was also worrying was when Fiza Ali said that molesters usually belong to a certain profession, like tailors. It's important to steer clear of blaming people from certain fields based on personal biases when there is no proof or evidence to back up this claim.
Nida, being the host of the show, said some troubling things too, like, "If the perpetrator doesn't get justice in this world, God will surely serve him in the Hereafter," statements like these allow perpetrators and criminals to get away scot-free in this world because people believe justice will be served in the afterlife - this mindset negates the purpose of our legal system.
The show ended with Nida Yasir's closing line which instead of giving a summary of the important points discussed, advised mothers that they should keep their children with them at all times and trust nobody. A brief revision of the solutions would've been helpful.
Madiha Naqvi dedicated her 11th January Thursday morning show to talking about Zainab's rape and murder as well as the rampant child abuse in our country that's come to light more so in recent years. She had a multitude of guests ranging from doctors and reporters, as well as Ahsan Khan who is well-known for his play, Udaari that tackled child sexual abuse.
The good: Madiha and her guests did repeatedly call out the Punjab government and police force for their inefficiency. Kasur-based reporter Bina shared that the police complains about not having enough manpower so maybe they should consider decreasing how many of them they deploy to VIP protocols.
Bina also spoke about delayed investigations, stating that the first 48 hours after a child goes missing are crucial. Zainab had been missing for five days before she was found. Simply put, the police did not do enough to recover her, not to mention, evidence is wiped the longer you wait.
The bad: While there was a discussion about how society tends to ostracise victims, there was way too much emphasis on retributive justice coming from the host herself. She repeatedly called for such perpetrators to be hanged and also said that they should be cut up into pieces. It's irresponsible to advocate such violence on television and it would have been better if they had spoken more about how civilians should exercise their right to protest as well as demand for an orderly legal system.
Madiha also mentions that she's talking about these issues in front of her father and brother who are watching the show because she's left with no other choice. It's counterproductive to start off on that note when later in the show they speak about how treating it like a taboo doesn't do anyone any favours
She addresses people who go on and on about good governance in Punjab and asks them: "What good governance? Your children aren't even safe." She followed that with "aapki bachion ki izzat mehfooz nahi hai." Again, mentioning izzat or honour in context to such incidents is problematic because it directly links to victim-shaming.
Faysal Qureshi opened his morning show Salam Zindagi with a monologue addressing sexual abusers, condemning them for their actions and telling them that they will be punished and justice, served.
Guest speakers on his show were ex-Ary host Maya Khan, celebrity Fazila Qazi, Sarim Burney of Sarim Burney Trust and Islamic scholar Dr Mufti Umair. The conversation between Maya and Faysal in the beginning of the show was hostile and violent, but it soon toned down as other guests gradually became a part of it.
The good: The show raised important questions from the start. Maya asked Faysal, "Are we creating a safe space for our daughters," and in the aftermath of such occurrences we should collectively ask, "Now what?" and work towards and workable solution.
Faysal also pointed out that unlike most Muslims who leave their faith on Judgement Day, perpetrators of such actions should be punished in this world and they should get what they deserve. He also stressed on sex education and its importance. He repeatedly mentioned that children should be made aware of 'good touch, bad touch'.
The mufti sahab brought a host of information to the show and unlike the other guests, he didn't bad mouth Pakistan, rather, he explained that child abuse is a global phenomenon, one recognised by the UN and international communities as a serious offence.
Sarim Burney presented a logical argument about our society's mindset and why these incidents are not strictly controlled. He said, due to the idea of forgiveness in our country, people let perpetrators off the hook and this presents as a serious issue because the predator is not being punished for his actions and because he's scot-free, he can cause the same harm and damage or more to others.
Faysal and Fazila touched upon a key issue and said that men and women need to work together to empower women and respect them. They also briefly spoke about the male gaze in public places - a topic which should have been fleshed out.
The bad: Although Faysal Qureshi played the role of a moderator, Maya Khan was able to steer the show's direction. Maya's opening speech was a hurl of emotional blaming at the parents of children who've suffered. Instead of discussing child abuse, she came with a heated lecture on bad parenting, a failed government structure and a graphic description of how Zainab's perpetrator should be punished. Had the host stopped her earlier on, it may have helped tone down the audience members as they took her speech as welcomed hostility and said things like, "We hope his daughters, wife and sisters suffer the same fate."
Many of Maya's statements on the show were disturbing, for example using the line, "Mer beti, behnain, ma, are they safe?". Why this serves as a problem is that again, we are viewing a problem from the eyes of our relations, if it happens to the women we know rather than looking at it from a wider perspective and saying, "we are all human and no one should be subject to this abuse and torture." Irrespective of age and gender, it is humanity above all.
She also mentions how we can prevent child abuse happening to girls “jin ki izzat aankh mein nahi ghoomi”. A highly irresponsible statement to make at a time when we're trying to dissociate honour with women and their bodies. Maya not only indirectly shames women who have been abused, but puts the crown of honour on little girls.
Perhaps the most problematic thing being said on the show was on the topic of pedophilia. Maya said it's because of "deen sey doori", the mufti sahab said "jab sharam aur haya khatam ho jaey" that's when people resort to such things. That is not true. These are ignorant statements because pedophilia is a mental disorder, it is a psychological issue and should be viewed/treated as one. Religion has absolutely nothing to do with it.
During the course of the show, Faysal Qureshi kept trying to validate the efforts of the media and dismiss naysayers who point out that the media does nothing. This was not the platform to prove media's role, it was a platform on how to use that role.
Allowing live callers to say things such as 'mothers these days don't have the time to educate their children about sexual abuse' creates a sexist divide among parents' duties, rather than urging them to work in unison for their child, it also targets women and mothers unjustly. Let's stop holding mothers responsible, child abuse is not the fault of a mother. It's surprising no one present on the show called this man out.
The show only focused on the religious aspect. Towards the end of the show Maya prayed to God to keep everyone's children safe, the mufti sahab said to read a prayer on children at certain times of the day to keep them safe. In all, there was no takeaway from the show, no solution to the problem and lots of blaming.
Sanam Baloch opened her January 11th morning show on ARY with a monologue on Zainab’s rape and murder, followed by a discussion with a handful of guests and an interview with Zainab’s father.
The good: During her introductory remarks Sanam was appropriately somber and explained the purpose behind focusing a whole show solely on Zainab. She said justice would only be served when the nation collectively raised its voice, and she said she would like to play a small part in this by raising awareness through her platform. She called for Zainab’s rapist to be swiftly and publicly hanged.
The bad: However, a few remarks stood out as being problematic. At one point, while speaking of Zainab’s rapist, Sanam said: “Jis ne Zainab ki izzat looti hai” (the one who stole Zainab’s honour).
At this point, the word ‘honour’ ought to be removed from our national conversation about rape and sexual violence, and it should be widely accepted that rape does not and cannot strip the ‘honour’ from an individual. Linking rape to honour merely perpetuates the myth that there is shame associated with being a victim of sexual violence. Morning show hosts would do well to take note.
Sanam recovered from this misstep to make clear that no child, rich or poor, is immune from sexual violence. One of her featured guests, politician Naz Baloch, asked for the public to be more vigilant so that they can spot potential abusers and kidnappers.
However throughout the show we felt that more could have been said to create awareness about how exactly to talk to children about sexual abuse.
Additionally, although Sanam and her guests kept telling viewers to raise their voices and protest, they shared no practical information about where to protest, how to reach out to political representatives or simply where to seek information about reporting sexual abuse.
Sahir Lodhi's two-episode coverage of Zainab's rape and murder attempted to introduce the call for 'Justice for All' in the conversation surrounding the tragedy.
He interrupted the festive programme of his scheduled January 11 show to deliver a monologue on both the horrific incident and the attack on protestors that followed. On both episodes, his show featured a multi-way conversation between the regular fixtures on the show like TV hosts Kiran Khan and Amber Faisal and expert guests like a lawyer, children's rights specialist and religious scholar.
The good: Aap Ka Sahir expanded the ongoing conversation with the emphasis on 'Justice For All'. He stressed that we need to remember that every child deserves the same chance at justice as Zainab and for the first time on a TV show (according to him), named the 11 other victims of child sexual abuse in Kasur.
Sahir also rightly stressed on the fact that peaceful protest is our right as citizens and the opening of fire on protestors is a gross violation of that right. He pointed out that less lethal measures like teargas or baton charge could have been exercised and the point-blank killing of protestors shows the grim state of the justice system that appears to serve only the elite few.
He went on to raise several questions about the government's and police inadequacy. "How is it that the culprit hasn't been caught in a small city like Kasur?" asked Sahir.
Several other valid points about child sexual abuse were made by guests, like the fact that boys need as much protection and awareness as girls. The show also touched on how we can help curb this heinous crime in our personal capacities, with Zeba Bakhtiar and Sanam Saeed both stressing on the need for children to be given some basic sex education at home and school to protect them from abuse.
The child rights expert pointed out that the Pakistan government should build more institutions for the wellbeing of children, as demanded by its signing of the UNICEF's Convention on the Rights of the Child. He also stressed that children need to be nurtured into confident humans at home.
When guests got emotional, Sahir urged them to stay within reason and not consider taking the law in their hands and instead focus on empowering the police to fight for them. We're glad that vigilantism or barbaric or extrajudicial killing was discouraged by Sahir.
The bad: Several of his regular guests, including Amber Faisal, Kiran Khan and Alina Khan, collectively expressed their desire for the meting out of harsh and public punishment for the culprit. They maintained that jail time wasn't sufficient because there is no telling when a culprit is let go. One guest called for a more violent death than hanging, a death exactly like the culprit's young victims suffered. Another offered to murder the culprit, saying that she would gladly sacrifice her own life to prevent any other young children from being hurt. Even Sanam Saeed, who called in to share her views on the show, said that the culprit should be publicly castrated or hung to serve as a deterrent for future offenders.
While Sahir appealed for his guests to stay within the realm of reason, he agreed that a harsh punishment for child rapists is necessary. "If I was allowed to speak my mind on TV, I would say a great many things about this animal... No punishment is too big for him."
This is problematic because braying for blood is a knee-jerk reaction to a shocking crime, which instead needs to be tackled by addressing its root causes.
The show barely scratches the surface in terms of actionable information. When Kiran Khan broaches the topic of KPK as having a model police force, she is silenced even though a dissection of its effectiveness could have yielded some interesting insight about how to better security in other provinces.
Moreover, the conversation on Aap Ka Sahir often devolves into sentimentality, like Sahir goes on about his love for his daughter and how he could give up his life to spare her any pain or discomfort. While many parents may relate to that sentiment, it takes the conversation to more personal territory when the show purported to raise awareness. This is especially valid, given that the show received some live criticism for cashing in on a trending topic. While Sahir insists that his purpose is awareness-raising, the show needed more informational value and fewer emotionally charged debates for that claim to be convincing.
Experts should have given more talk-time than the weeping guests. That the first episode featured the guests dressed in wedding finery was jarring and an inexcusable oversight, even if the segment on Zainab was unplanned.