Once sparkling with hope to conquer the world, the eyes of children belonging to the economically backward section of the society in Pakistan are now filled with fear and dismay. The religious schools that promised a better lifestyle to these kids, have instead scarred them for the rest of their lives.
Putting the entire humankind to shame, disturbing tales of exploitation of minors by clerics appointed in Pakistan's religious institutions have come to the fore. An investigation by News agency Associated Press (AP) has uncovered the inhumane side of the schools which were set up across different parts of the Muslim-majority country with an aim to educate the less fortunate.
8-year-old recounts horrifying experience
Yaous, son of a poor laborer, hails from Pakistan's remote region of northern Kohistan. The 8-year-old had dreams of going to a school but his family's financial condition did not allow. Then, one day, news came in that a religious school is opening up in Mansehra, a village that was several hundred kilometers south of his. But, the distance did not deter his intentions in any way and he got enrolled.
Everything went without a hitch until a chilly December night last year. Most of the students had vacated the madrassa that day as it was a holiday. However, Yaous had to stay back as he could not afford the cost of transportation. There came a point when Yaous and the cleric, named Qari Shamsuddin, were alone in the mosque. And then something happened that traumatized the kid beyond repairs. He was brutally raped for two days until he appeared to have fallen extremely sick.
Somehow mustering up the courage, Yaous told AP, "It was so cold. I didn't understand why he was taking my warm clothes off. The pain made me scream and cry, but he wouldn't stop."
The doctor who treated him revealed that he had a lot of bruises on his head, on his chest, on his legs and the rest of the body as well.
Yaous's father did not speak to him for a few months after the assault, an act that he later regretted. The accused is presently behind bars while his fellow clerics are demanding his release claiming all of this to be a conspiracy.
Minor girls too aren't spared the unforgiving treatment
The clerics in Pakistan's religious schools target both minor boys and girls. 11-year-old Misbah, a native of south Punjab village of Basti Qasi, was raped by a cleric in a mosque right next to her house.
Revisiting the horrid experience, Misbah told that it happened the day she stayed back to sweep the mosque. "I had just begun to clean when the cleric slammed shut the mosque door. I didn't know why and then he suddenly grabbed me and pulled me into a nearby room. I was screaming and shouting and crying," she said.
She was rescued by her uncle who heard the screams as he passing by the mosque.
The police are well aware of the situation as they have received innumerable reports over the last few months. According to the cops, the clerics are a powerful force in Pakistan and not much can be done against them. The Imran Khan government has also not heard the plight of the innocents, till yet.