KEHRORE PAKKA, Pakistan (AP) — Kausar Parveen struggles through tears as she remembers the blood-soaked pants of her 9-year-old son, raped by a religious cleric. Each time she begins to speak, she stops, swallows hard, wipes her tears and begins again.
The boy fidgets with his scarf and looks over at his mother.
“Did he touch you?’ He nods. “Did he hurt you when he touched you?” ”Yes,” he whispers.
“Did he rape you?” He buries his face in his scarf and nods yes.
Sexual abuse is a pervasive and longstanding problem at madrassas in Pakistan, an Associated Press investigation has found. But in a culture where clerics are powerful, it is seldom discussed or even acknowledged in public.
It is even more seldom prosecuted, according to the investigation, based on police documents and dozens of interviews with victims, families, officials and aid groups. Police are often paid off not to pursue justice against clerics, victims’ families say. And cases rarely make it past the courts, because Pakistan’s legal system allows the victim’s family to “forgive” the offender and accept what is often referred to as “blood money.”
A tally of cases reported in newspapers over the past 10 years of sexual abuse by maulvis or clerics and other religious officials came to 359. That represents “barely the tip of the iceberg,” says Munizae Bano, executive director of Sahil, the organization that scours the newspapers.
In 2004, a Pakistani official disclosed more than 500 complaints of sexual assaults against young boys in madrassas. He has since refused to talk.
Two officials familiar with the madrassas said sexual abuse there happens all the time. They asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from militant groups. One compared the situation to the abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church.
“There are thousands of incidences of sexual abuse in the madrassas,” he says. “This thing is very common…I am not sure what it will take to expose the extent of it. It’s very dangerous…