A lot has been said and discussed in the five days since the Kasur child abuse scandal came to the fore. It has been labelled as the biggest sexual abuse scandal in the history of the country, with many dubbing it a tragedy greater than the Peshawar school attack. While the gravity of the scandal has been comprehensively highlighted – despite a few ministers’ endeavour to downplay the atrocities – and the responsibility of the Punjab government and law enforcement agencies thoroughly dissected, there still is a lack of deliberation over the uncomfortable questions, wherein one can usually trace the elephant in the room.

Fear, the deadliest arsenal possessed by Kasur’s crime syndicate, which sodomized and filmed children for nearly a decade, is not being targeted. This leaves the dangerous weapon – and its evident menace – open for abuse. It was fear that ensured that hundreds of parents were hushed up, as evidence of their children’s torment was nonchalantly presented by the perpetrators themselves. This self-mutilating fear wasn’t instilled through death threats or imminent violence, but simply through banking on a perverted concept of ‘honour’, which blackmailed the parents into submission.

The idea of ‘losing one’s honour’, on which the entire superstructure of the Kasur scandal rested for nine years, wasn’t conceived by the gang. The concept was given birth millennia ago, as we, the outraged citizens of Pakistan, fan the embers of victim-blaming while simultaneously demanding ‘justice for our children’. And so, while we radiate angst, let us pause for a moment and realise that it’s we, and our warped perception of ‘morality’, that was the greatest accomplice for the Ganda Singhwallah gang.

Sexual intercourse, the most natural and basic of human instincts, is still treated by our society as a cardinal sin, unless the indulgent get written approval by the state to have sex – also known as a marriage certificate. This state – and society – sanctioned suppression of perfectly healthy sexual activities can result in abuse and violence, which for many becomes a gory outlet to unshackle years’ worth of repressed instincts. The victims being compelled by societal norms to shush up, in order to preserve their ‘honour’, gives the abusers the license to persist with their beastly manipulation.

With most victims being silenced by us, the ‘virtuous’ and self-righteous society, it gives the moral brigade enviable stats of abuse and rape from our neck of the woods, which are lesser compared to the Western societies. As we completely discount the simple reality that the lion’s share of cases pertaining to sexual violence don’t get reported here, we continue to turn a blind eye to the aforementioned elephant in the room. After all, if women are raped and children abused in Western societies as well, which allow all kinds of sexual activities, why should we readdress our phobia of sex?

As long as we treat consensual premarital sexual activity as the gravest sin, forced sexual abuse will continue to be treated as such as well. For, if an act constitutes unparalleled sin, what does it matter if one never consented to be a part of it?

As we readdress our paranoia vis-à-vis sex, and (re)define ‘honour’ to ensure that those falling prey to sexual violence don’t qualify as ‘dishonoured’, we also need a crash course in grasping the rather simple concept of consent, which is an inalienable part of all healthy sexual activities. Let’s not forget that we live in a society where many ‘educated’ and ‘rational’ people often equate approval of sexual activities between same-sex individuals with legalising rape. Seemingly it’s impossible to differentiate between allowing people to establish a consensual relationship that might offend people who’ve got nothing to do with it, and approving sexual violence with a clear disparity between the intents of the victim and the aggressor.

As mutual consent is pivotal for any healthy sexual activity, adulthood is essential to the idea of consent. With many in the Pakistani media ludicrously claiming the sexual activities of the scandal as ‘consensual’ on the children’s part, it’s evident that any readdressing of our approach towards sex needs to start with comprehending consent.

Sex awareness for children does not mean completely exposing them to ideas that they might not be mature enough for. Sex education, like any other form of education, is a step-by-step process, where children should be gradually informed about guarding themselves from molesters in the childhood, channelising their nascent sex drives in the early teens and mulling safe sex as they approach adulthood.

If a child is oblivious to the concept of sexual molestation, they would be the most vulnerable to abuse. This is precisely why many victims of child abuse only realise that they were molested in their childhood when they grow up, years after they were abused. In many cases the perpetrators, quite often members of the external family or close family friends, rely on this lack of awareness to victimise children for years.

Similarly as these children grow into their teens, the established ‘shame’ in any sexual thought or indulgence makes them self-hating individuals failing to combat their natural instincts. This is the age when the tweens and teenagers need to be told that it’s perfectly natural to have sexual desires and how they would gradually mature into fulfilment of those instincts. Allowing these teenagers to embrace their sexuality ensures the healthiness of their sexual desires.

What we do instead is shackle our adolescent girls into a perpetual fear of sex, till the parents earmark the man with whom that hitherto act of utmost sin becomes a compulsion overnight. And from then onwards it becomes an act of duty for the women to sexually oblige the man that her parents – and the state – have approved for them. Having spent most of their lives preserving the ‘honour’ of their parents, the women thence guard the sanctity of their husband’s name, with a lifelong acquiescence to a relationship that was forced on them by their parents and society. There’s a commonly understood word for when someone is forced into a sexual relationship.

Unless we’re willing to candidly talk about sex, sexual abuse in its goriest form will persist. As long as sexual activity is considered antagonistic to one’s ‘honour’, the fear that allows rapists and molesters to audaciously abuse people will continue to exist, allowing us all to live in this utopian bubble where sexual assault is ‘insignificant’ compared to the rest of the world. If we’re really outraged over the child abuse scandal, we need to mull over, and undo, the part we played in enabling it.