Imagine being so poor that you cannot afford the sustenance of your child. What do you do? How do you provide them education when you are even struggling to put food on the table? The solution to this predicament came in the form of Madrassas.
A Madrassa is a religious education institution that provides housing facilities and necessities to its students and is often funded through charity. These Madrassas form a large chunk of the education system of Pakistan.
"There are more than 22,000 registered madrassas in Pakistan, teaching more than 2 million children. But there are many more religious schools that are unregistered.”
These students often come from backgrounds of immense poverty and illiteracy; because of this, their parents and guardians have blind faith in the Madrassas as they believe that these Madrassas are the only hope they have. This blind faith and lack of awareness create power hegemony where the clerics in these institutions are treated as the ultimate authority on every matter. With the entire fate of children placed in the hands of clerics, the power hegemony and lack of accountability create an extremely toxic and complicated environment of isolation and abuse.
Child abuse and child sexual abuse is rampant in Madrassas, and almost every day, a new story comes out with every next one being more horrific than the last, from children getting STDs to physically become impaired and ending up with broken bones and nightmares that follow them for the rest of their lives. The testimonies of the survivors are enough to send chills through any grown-up's body, and these survivors were children when they started getting harassed and abused, which only goes to make the whole thing worse. Shazia, a survivor of sexual abuse in Madrassas, gave the following statement:
“He has done wrong with boys and also with two or three girls,” Recalling one girl, the cleric brutalized so badly he broke her back.
This incident is far from an exception; in fact, the victim spoke up against all the heinous crimes. There is an extreme stigma associated with all this, and this stigma continues to help serve the abusers as people are afraid to speak out in fear of social exclusion and for their safety as these clerics are extremely influential individuals of the society. All of this continues the cycle of abuse, poverty, and exploitation with absolutely no hopes of betterment in the foreseeable future. And children and their education continue to suffer.