Zoya’s voice shakes at times. Dressed in a white shalwar kameez, her shoulder-length hair is pulled back. “My father had been abusing me since the time I was little kid.” Tears roll down her face and she recalls the details of her abuse.
She was four when she first came to suspect that what was happening to her might not be normal. One day, “when everyone was sleeping, my father picked me up, took me to another room, undressed me,” Zoya says. “I found myself lying in bed naked and I was frightened, I didn’t understand why.”
Later, Zoya tried to tell her mother.
“I said, ‘Papa is taking me — mama, papa is taking me at night to another room and he takes off my clothes and does things.’” Her mother answered, “Don’t tell anybody.” It’s a common phrase for victims of sexual abuse in Pakistan to hear from their mothers.
Manizeh Bano, Executive Director of a Pakistan-based NGO called Sahil that works against child sexual abuse and exploitation, she says that the country’s harsh gender restrictions makes it difficult for mothers to protect their own children. “It is the most difficult because mothers don’t have options, they often have to live within that same family, they can’t get up and go anywhere,” she says.
Cases like Zoya’s aren’t uncommon, according to Bano, and lack of support that exists for women in Pakistan makes them often unable to help their daughters get out of the situation. In Pakistan most families are still overwhelmingly financially supported by men. Bano says that if a mother learns that her husband is sexually molesting her daughters, she has nowhere to turn because there is little to no state assistance for battered women in Pakistan if they chose not to live with their husbands.
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