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     Volume 6 Issue 8 | March 2, 2007 |

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Human Rights

Too Young to Speak Out

Hana Shams Ahmed

Tani was only eight years old when her mother Tasnima, coming from a moderately Muslim family, decided to keep a hujur (Muslim cleric) for her at home to study the Arabic language. Tasnima thought that she was doing her daughter a favour by teaching her a new language. Tani was a very intelligent child and Tasnima knew that she would catch on fast. The hujur was a 50-year-old respectable man, and Tasnima felt at ease about letting her daughter study under such a mentor.
But little did she know that the hujur had other things on his mind. One night when the electricity went off and Tasnima was in the kitchen busy with her cooking, the hujur took little Tani on his lap and molested her. Tani was terrified. She did not know what he was doing to her but she knew it was wrong and was too frightened to shout out loud. Twenty years after her shocking ordeal, Tani recalls the incident with anger. "I refused to study under that hujur after that but my mom didn't take the hint," says Tani, "She actually slapped me saying that I was just shying away from hard work." Tani thinks it was her mother's carelessness that caused the incident. "There was no reason to trust a man she hardly knew. And to think that just because he's a religious person he would be pious is just plain fallacy," she adds.

Tani's incident is by no means unique. Child exploitation and abuse is one of the most common and least talked about subjects among the middle and upper-middle class where parents of young children shrug it off as a problem 'that doesn't concern us'. Many parents think that by staying inside the house among familiar faces their children will be safe from such perpetrators. But, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Samia was brought up in a joint family where her family used to live under the same roof with three of her uncles and their families. Samia recalls vividly how her youngest uncle tried to attack her once. “Although I was only nine,” she says, now 22, “I was always an outspoken child. I knew what he was doing to me was wrong. When I told her I would tell my father, he let me go.” She attributes her courage to her parents. Although she didn't dare to tell her parents about it at that time, she was at least saved from any further attacks from him.

Many parents also only worry about their daughters. But the truth is that children of both sexes are vulnerable. Arafat's parents sent him off to a residential school as they had two younger children and could not deal with his mischief when he was only in his fourth grade. “Although I wasn't really happy about going to that school I adjusted very quickly and made friends fast,” says Arafat. But one day when a 10th grader came into his room when he was all alone and tried to abuse him he did not know what to do. In a fit of rage and unable to fight back he smashed his hand into the window.

Arafat never spoke to his parents about how he injured his hand and his parents just assumed it was more of his mischief.

Parents are sometimes overprotective about who their children meet outside the home but ignore the signs of abuse taking place at home. These incidents hardly ever come out in the open. Children are usually too naïve to talk about what is happening to them. They know they are being wronged and they usually cannot protest or talk to their parents about it. On the other hand if parents talk about it with their children they would probably feel much more safe and confident. Parents sometimes underestimate their children and think that they are too young and shouldn't have to worry unnecessarily. They think they are good enough to protect their children from even knowing about sexual harassment. But, that is probably their biggest mistake. Children need to be explained in the right manner about sexual harassment so that they feel confident and can open up to their parents.

(Names have been changed to protect identities)

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