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My Experience of Child Abuse by Nadia Khan Yousafzai

Note: “Zohra is 23 years old and lives in New York, USA. Her name and city is changed for privacy purpose.”

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“We were playing this game in the class where everyone writes questions on a paper, folds it, mix all the folded papers, pick one and answer it. I was 16 years old at the time when one question from the game ended me up in the hospital. Everyone laughed at their questions and shared a little funny story related to the question. It was my turn and I was super excited to share something funny. I picked up my question and my friend jumped on it and read the question, “When was your first kiss and who was he/she?” I started thinking while a memory that I repressed for years hit me and almost paralyzed my tongue. I couldn’t speak and everyone waited. How could I tell my classmates that my first kiss was at the age of 8?

I was born and raised in the USA. My parents decided to send me to Swat, Pakistan when I was 8 years old with my siblings to keep us away from the western influences. My parents stayed with us for a couple of weeks then left us to the family in Swat, Pakistan and went back to the USA. We were literally treated like aliens by everyone. Apart from my close uncles, every other old and young man felt all the rights to touch me anywhere they wanted to. What I did not understand was when men would stop me in narrow streets, hug me tight and kiss me on my cheeks or bite me. And everyone was okay with it while I did not feel good.

There was a store close to my house in our village, the owner always made me feel uncomfortable with his stares and gave me free candies. One afternoon, someone in the family asked me to get something from the store and buy myself ice cream. I asked my brother to come with me but he did not want to come as he too was traumatized of the sexual harassment we went through on the daily bases. I went to the store and there were no custumers. The man also the owner of the store used to call me “nenzaka” (doll) as he saw me, he said, “Zama nenzaka ragha” (my doll has come). I asked him what I needed in my broken Pakhto. He held my hand took me all the way in and asked me to say it in English. I was shaking and couldn’t talk. He said if I don’t say it in English, he wouldn’t give me the things I needed. So I said it in English. He hugged me and kissed my lips while grabbed my hand towards his private parts. I was shivering and started crying. I could still feel my body shivering as I remember the moment. While this was happening to me, there was a car noise, he let me go quickly, gave me my stuff and didn’t take money. At that age, I had learned that whatever happens to me is my fault and I will be punished and called a bad girl if I open my mouth. So I wiped my tears went home. I got used to it by then because it was something I went through every day at home and outside.
The sexual harassment we all siblings went through finally became visible to the family after someone did something to my brother in school. My parents finally woke up and brought us back to the USA while blamed the family in the village for making up lies about the sexual harassment because they were not being able to take care of us according to my parents. My siblings and I have never discussed what we went through until today and we all repressed the bad memories that are now affecting all of us in different ways.

I just felt numb after the question and all the memories attached to it. I don’t even remember how the game ended and later on I had no energy to get up, just lied on the floor, heard everything, saw everything but my tongue and body were paralyzed. I was rushed to the hospital but never told anyone not even the doctors about what had happened. They thought I didn’t eat properly and my blood pressure dropped.”

Sexual harassment of young children is the most common harassment in the Pakhtun culture. Women are locked in homes and streets are full of desperate men who get horny even when they see little children on the streets or dogs/cats. In the west children are not allowed on the streets without supervision but in the holy land of Pakhtuns, it’s the other way around. Children are on the streets all day long and parents don’t even care. There is a video recently shared on Facebook, which is very similar to Zohra’s story. A pious man with a religious red beard is handing a plastic bag to a 10 or 11-year-old girl, pinches her breasts (that barely exist) and she screams from pain. The video is extremely disturbing.

However, sexual harassment could affect these children badly in the long run. Sexual harassment trauma affects children development and if the trauma is left unresolved, it can block personal growth throughout life. Some people stay stuck in a state of doubt, anxiety, fear, and suspicion.


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