Like any other little girls, Faria Akhtar and Nusrat Jahan loved to dress up and look pretty. They were hardly five years old and so were easily enticed by the offer of a bright lipstick. They had been playing in the backstreets near their house in Konapara, Demra when two men, whom they considered their uncles, lured them into their flat with the promise of lipstick, then strangled them to death after several attempts at rape.
In another case, a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped on a rooftop in the Khan Jahan Ali area of Khulna. The class X student was raped by her fellow students whom she trusted as friends. They had said they would buy her a gift from a nearby shopping centre and so she went along with them, but instead of a gift, they raped her.
In Old Dhaka, two-year-old Ayesha Moni used to call a certain neighbour her uncle and trusted him. Yet this ‘uncle’ raped and killed her, then threw her body off a four-storey building.
Most recently, a fifth grader was raped in a classroom for innocently believing her schoolteacher. Reports of these despicable incidents of rape were published in Prothom Alo recently.
All those victims had one thing in common. They were ‘believers’. They just believed in their friends, their uncles, their teachers, and their neighbours. And they were raped by these trusted ones.
Relationships among friends, neighbours, uncles and nieces, teachers and students, are often considered to be safe zones, where the trusting children seek shelter and refuge against the dangers and fears of the outside world. But, instead, these hapless little ones are victim to all sorts of sexual abuse including rape.
These known faces are also the significant social contacts in human society, on which society thrives. Human beings have been living down the ages with these ‘social contacts’, an integral part of their life and living.
There are a variety of relationships all around us in terms of sex and gender among the animal community. But they mate and procreate, they do not rape.
“No zoologist, as far as I know, has ever observed that animals rape in their natural habitat. Sex in the animal world, including those species that are our closest relations, the primates, is more properly called "mating," and it is cyclical activity set off by biologic signals the female puts out,” wrote famous American feminist journalist and author Susan Brownmiller in her book ‘Against Our Will’ (1975).
Rape is not a ‘natural selection’ for human beings either. Despite that, only humans rape in their ‘natural habitat’.
Minors are the major victims of the perversion where children under 12 years of age are raped. The most alarming fact about child rape is that it is on a steady rise every year. Rights body Ain O Salish Kendra’s statistics show more than 31 children were raped each month of 2017 (377 in total that year). With 18 per cent increase, at least 444 children were raped in 2018.
According to ASK’s annual report, 47 per cent of the child rape victims are aged between 0 and 6. They do not even understand what the word ‘rape’ means and are not matured enough to discern whom to trust and whom to not.
Every incident of child rape has a similar story. The victims were either tempted or trapped by the so-called near and dear ones just for trusting them. The rapists exploited their gullibility.
Sometimes the culprits are caught and face punishment. But, what about the shattered safe zones and the wounded belief system of society? What about the deceived victims?
The answers to these questions lie in the future. The future is also uncertain as there is no guarantee today that any girl, child, or minor will not be raped tomorrow. Nowadays, such incidents have become almost routine in the country. There are a very few days when no incident of such rape hits the headlines.
There is more. The rapists do not stop at raping innocent children. The victims often face medieval brutality as the rapists beat them, throw them off balconies, and even cut them into pieces to hide the ‘evidence’. Some of the victims survive, while most of them face miserable deaths.
What do the relationships now mean to the innocent minds after such brutality? Would any other girl be able to trust uncles, teachers, neighbours or friends anymore?
And we have grown shock-proof. The gravity of the gruesome crime does not seem to touch our hearts any longer. Numbness has engulfed our sensitivity. Numbers remain just numbers, faceless victims failing to create an impact on our minds.
Psychiatrics speak of paedophilia, where the paedophiles take an excessive sexual interest in ‘preadolescent children’. So are all these rapists ‘psychologically imbalanced'? That in no way gives them impunity. The country’s mental health experts say there are a number of other ‘explicit causes’ behind the increasing rates of child rape. Decay in values and ethics, the impact of rampant pornography and narcotics are among the key causes behind the increasing numbers of child rapes, these experts say. Are we ready to fight back the decay and degeneration?
On the other hand, mental health specialists warn of severe consequences for the child rape victims in future. Very young children perhaps cannot understand the horror of the incident at such an early age. Once they grow up and understand the brutality of the rape, the horror will pervade their future. This has an impact on the nation as a whole too. If we fail to stop this dark brutality immediately, this will not bode well for the future of the country. After all, today’s child is the custodian of tomorrow.
But, who will bell the cat? Where there is a crisis, there is solution. The solution lies in us. Some say proper implementation of laws and harsh punishment in the answer. The law is good, but it not the only solution. We rather need a sustainable solution against the growing crime. It is all about norms, values, mutual respect and trust. Laws cannot generate norms and values, but a family can. We also need aspiration and determination. There should be a determination to keep relationships of trust sacred.
This is not enough. We should also help our children build a shield of self-defence to deter possible harm. The parents should teach their children a degree of distrust. They have to perceive the duality of good and bad that resides in humans. As children often fail to recognise the shadier side of people, we should teach them the nature of ‘inappropriate attitudes’, ‘improper behaviour’ and ‘objectionable offers’, which are possible sex traps. The parents should also train their children how to find an escape if they feel endangered.
Making a safe zone is not impossible if each and every one of us comes forward to put up a fight against this cruel perversion. The sooner we start to recover, the sooner we will have the ‘safe zones’, safe for the infants, the children, and young ones of tomorrow.
*Toriqul Islam is a journalist. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org