"Quran" by Habib M’henni / Public Domain

Child sex abuse in Pakistan’s religious schools is endemic

Apr 15, 2020

By Kathy Gannon

Muhimman proudly writes his name slowly, carefully, one letter at a time, grinning broadly as he finishes. He’s just 11 years old and was a good student who had dreams of being a doctor.

School frightens him now. Earlier this year, a cleric at the religious school he faithfully attended in the southern Punjab town of Pakpattan took him into a washroom and tried to rape him. Muhimman’s aunt, Shazia, who wanted only her first name used, said she believes the abuse of young children is endemic in Pakistan’s religious schools. She said she has known the cleric, Moeed Shah, since she was a little girl and describes him as an habitual abuser who used to ask little girls to pull up their shirts.

“He has done wrong with boys and also with two or three girls,” Shazia said, recalling one girl the cleric brutalized so badly he broke her back.

An investigation by The Associated Press found dozens of police reports, known here as First Information Reports, alleging sexual harassment, rape and physical abuse by Islamic clerics teaching in madrassas or religious schools throughout Pakistan, where many of the country’s poorest study. The AP also documented cases of abuse through interviews with law enforcement officials, abuse victims and their parents. The alleged victims who spoke for this story did so with the understanding only their first names would be used.

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