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Why are we struggling to confront sexual abuse at madrassahs?

Source: SAMAA News

Footage of Mufti Azizur Rehman, a 70-year-old religious cleric and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s vice ameer in Lahore, sexually assaulting one of his teenage seminary students went viral on social media.

The video spread shockwaves on Pakistani Twitter as netizens not only called for immediate action to be taken against Rehman but a clear out of pedophiles in religious seminaries across the country. Meanwhile, in a video, Mufti Aziz confesses molestation and blame the video release on Madrassahs politics – as if he did nothing wrong.

For years, it has been silently acknowledged that many madrassas (religious seminaries) in Pakistan are hubs of sexual abuse, where children sent in to receive a religious education are often exploited, harassed, molested and raped by the teachers. But why such cases go unreported?

Firstly, many of the religious clerics who run such seminaries or teach at them enjoy a great deal of power and influence in their localities. Therefore, any accusation levelled against them is often met with a unanimous attack against the victim.

Secondly, such accusations are also seen as an attack on Islam. Thirdly, this problem is worsened by the fact that many madrassahs in Pakistan are not registered, thus making it very difficult to monitor their activities.

Lastly, many madrassahs in Pakistan provide essential services to thousands of children. Due to these additional facilities, several poorer households choose to enroll their children in madrassas. Therefore, even when cases of sexual abuse do emerge, many families are simply reluctant to take action against the institution.

Clearly, no religion teaches any of these wrong-doings, but until we hold these perpetrators responsible we will continue to fundamentally destroy the lives of the youth in this country.

An awareness campaign centred around sexual harassment and abuse is the need of the hour. We as a nation collectively denounce such acts but the state must also work towards finding immediate solutions to this problem.

Famous religious clerics, who are heading such institutions, must also acknowledge recent incidents of abuse and take immediate action to ensure transparency in the currently convoluted madrassahs system.