There are 22,000 registered madrassas in Pakistan. Almost around two million children are studying in these madrassas. The children that go to these Islamic schools come from the most underprivileged backgrounds. And the idea behind these schools is to provide them shelter, food and an education.
According to an Associated Press (AP) investigation, sexual assault in madrassas in Pakistan is quite prevalent
BBC reported in 2004, there were 500 complains of sexual assault in religious seminaries in Pakistan. And the number has been increasing ever since.
A recent case to come to the forefront was of a religious scholar being filmed abusing a young child
He posted a video which shows a religious scholar, Maulana Abdul Rauf Yazdani, molesting a young boy in a car.
TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNING: Video purportedly shows Maulana Abdul Rauf Yazdani molesting a boy in his vehicle's backseat. Govt must take action pic.twitter.com/zBWE61v6h4
— Bilal Farooqi (@bilalfqi) October 20, 2017
Here is another video of a reporter trying to interview a Maulvi who raped a girl in his madrassa
There are several stories of assault. Many get reported too but the influence that seminary keepers have, helps them avoid punishment in the case.
A religious seminary student Muhammad Asif, 12, was scarred with hot iron for refusing to have sexual intercourse with his teacher, Abdul Rashid, who injured his private parts in anger.
A madrassa teacher and two others are jailed awaiting trial in Karachi for an acid attack on a 14-year-old boy in 2002 after he allegedly refused to have sexual intercourse with the cleric. The boy was blinded and badly injured. However, the accused deny charges.
In another part of Karachi, Muhammad Askoroni’s mother noticed a bite on the 10-year-old boy’s neck. The child started crying and vomiting when asked what happened, said his mother, Dil Jauher. The boy’s claim: a cleric at his madrassa sodomized him after evening Quran classes, according to a complaint filed with police and the rights group Madadgaar.
There are around 2000 to 3000 one or two room seminaries as well, which have not been registered and they take in a number of children as well.
These are often opened by graduates of other madrassas, and they often do not have a proper qualification to open up such an institute. The advantage that they have is that they operate without any scrutiny and accountability at all. Although same is the case with the registered ones, but at least the government machinery acknowledges their presence and takes them into account.
It is quite difficult to sustain such schools on their own because people who send in their children do not have the means to pay for their child’s education. So, these schools get funding from wealthy individuals, donors from other countries such as Saudi Arabia, and even religious political parties.
The problem, however, is that there is no central authority to monitor the activities of these madrassas.
There is no appointed body to check who runs these madrassas, how that person is appointed, and what precisely is his qualification to be able to perform that role. So, when no one monitors the appointments and activities, there is no one to go to when there is a problem. The children are confined within the walls of the seminary and cannot complain when anything inappropriate happens.
Even if the government offers to oversee these seminaries, the keepers refuse to accept such a setting. They do not want any reforms introduced in however they are managing their system.
The reason why they have the power to ignore the demands of the government and exercise power on their own is because the religious right in the country has grown stronger.
And allegations against them often result in death threats for those attempting to create accountability in the religious circles. Saif-ul-Mulk is a human rights lawyer. He is also currently under police protection because of his defense of a Christian woman who was accused of insulting Islam. He says
Everyone is so afraid of the mullahs today.
The police also accommodates these abusers because they pay them off. And another reason why these people do not get the required punished is because the Pakistani justice system allows the victim’s family to forgive the accused and accept blood money.
The AP found over hundreds of cases of sexual assault in madrassas, which have been reported in the past decade. Their investigation is based on police documents and dozens of interviews with victims, relatives, former and current ministers, aid groups and religious officials.
In the last 10 years, the newspapers reported 359 cases of sexual abuse by maulvis or clerics and other religious officials.
We would like to emphasise again on the fact that
These children and their lives are at the disposal of such predators. And abuse, assault, molestation and violation become a daily occurrence. Boys are even smuggled from Afghanistan as well to these seminaries. And there is a huge hue and cry from the activists in Pakistan. They have been encouraging parents and children to open up about these stories. This will help in documenting these cases and a proper investigation will start.
Cover image via: indiadivine.org