Menace of child abuse in Pakistan

Victim-blaming attitudes and lack of awareness about children's rights compounded the challenges in tackling and preventing crime

Cases of sexual abuse of minor children have been increasing in Pakistan, a recent report of the Intelligence Center of the Interior Department has highlighted. According to a private welfare organization, 12 children are sexually abused every day in Pakistan.

Dr Muneeza Bano, chief executive of Sahil, a non-governmental organization working on child protection, says, "The scope of such incidents is very wide. Various organizations are working to prevent it. Legislation is being made but There is no system for training children."

Zainab, Auz Noor, Hamza etc. are children whose cases have come to the media and have become a proof of the waywardness of the society. There is also a large number of cases of child sexual abuse in Pakistan that go unreported. But in Pakistan, when the incident of sexual abuse and murder of a child comes to light in the media, there are calls from all sides to tighten the laws.

In 2018, an 8-year-old girl, Zainab, was raped and then killed in Kasur city of Punjab province. At that time, voices were raised against the rape of children all over the world, including Pakistan.

Following the incident, the government introduced a bill in 2019 called the 'Zainab Alert Bill', which mandated that any child abduction or rape case be completed within three months of being registered. 

In 2019, a bill was presented in the National Assembly for public hanging for child sexual abuse, which said that if the rapist is over 21 years of age, he should be hanged in front of 100 people. This bill was presented by Member National Assembly James Iqbal on the minority seat of Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA).

The bill said that those who rape children under 14 years of age should be punished with life imprisonment or at least 7 years of imprisonment and a fine of 2 lakhs, while those who rape children under 18 years of age should be punished with maximum imprisonment. Life imprisonment, at least 5 years of imprisonment and a fine of 50 thousand rupees should be punished, while the punishment of 14 years of imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 rupees was proposed for those who rape disabled persons.

Something similar happened in 2020 when an 8-year-old girl Auz Noor was killed after being sexually assaulted in Nowshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

On February 7, 2020, during the Tehreek-e-Insaf government, a resolution was passed to publicly hang the criminals who sexually abused and killed children. In the session of the National Assembly, former Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan read the said resolution before the House and presented it for approval. The Auz Noor case was specially mentioned in this resolution.

According to the resolution, "This House calls for an end to the shameful and barbaric killings of children and to put obstacles in the way of such incidents. Murderers and rapists should not only be hanged, but hanged in public." "The former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Qasim Suri, held a referendum on this resolution and it was approved by a majority vote. However, the Tehreek-e-Insaf government distanced itself from this resolution and described it as a 'personal effort' and 'action' of some party members. While the Pakistan People's Party strongly opposed the public hanging.

It should be kept in mind that a resolution passed by the National Assembly does not necessarily mean that it has become a law. In order to make a law, its draft must be approved by the National Assembly and the Senate.

Amnesty International has condemned the passing of a resolution by Pakistan's National Assembly regarding the public execution of perpetrators of child sexual abuse and murder, saying, "Child sexual abuse and murder are among the most heinous crimes. However, death penalty is not the solution. Public execution is unacceptable and cruel and has no place in a civilized society."

The reality is that sex crimes are increasing at an alarming rate in Pakistan. Be it cases related to children or related to women, this poison has spread throughout the society. In Europe, the entire record of the accused who abuses children is kept, but here it is sad to say that we do not have such a system. come out of prisons and again indulge in such acts.

In September 2020, when a woman was sexually assaulted in front of her children on the highway near Lahore, there were calls to take strict action against the criminals. At that time, the former Prime Minister Imran Khan proposed during an interview that "sexual rapists should be punished severely" and the criminals should be castrated so that they cannot rape anyone for the rest of their lives. should be publicly executed.

In 2020, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle conducted a survey on Facebook in which the majority of Pakistanis supported public executions. More than 16,500 users participated in this social media survey and 94% of them voted in favor of public execution. Only 6 percent opposed the punishment. This survey was conducted in the context of passing a resolution in the National Assembly.

Online sexual exploitation of children is increasing in Pakistan. This crime has now become an industry. But authorities often face difficulties in prosecuting criminals. It includes nude images of children, images of child abuse and videos of them being sexually assaulted. They can be uploaded by a criminal while living in any country. That is why it is quite difficult to implement the laws formulated for it.

Online sexual exploitation of children is a serious problem in Pakistan. According to Sahil, in the year 2021, about 3,852 boys and girls, aged 2 months to 18 years, were exploited, including gang rape, sodomy and online. Cases of exploitation are included.

This is the number of cases that were reported. The least reported of these were cases of online exploitation. Because there is considerable ambiguity about their jurisdiction. However, Pakistan has made a lot of amendments in its laws to deal with this type of crime. But it is still failing to make its jurisdiction wide and effective. One of the reasons for this is that the nature of Internet-related crimes is rapidly changing. This new form of online exploitation has caused significant international concern.

Experts say the purpose of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA act) is to prevent sexual exploitation and harassment of children online. Section 21 of PECA deals with the natural decency and dignity of a minor, the exploitation of which prescribes imprisonment as a consequence. The term of imprisonment can be up to seven years. Anyone involved in online child abuse can be fined up to five lakh rupees. Further, Section 22 of PECA criminalizes the production, distribution, transmission and acquisition of child pornography through information systems.

From 2009 to 2019, 33 thousand 895 cases of sexual abuse of children under 18 years of age were reported in Pakistan. This report was compiled by the FIA ​​in which important revelations came out.

According to the report, 33,895 cases were reported to FIA from 2009 to 2019. In these 10 years, the highest number of cases of rape against minor girls were reported in 2010, 73%.

In 2015, 48% of cases of rape against boys under 18 years of age were reported over a 10-year period. According to the report, most of the accused were between 19 and 24 years old, while most of the victims were between 7 and 10 years old.

During 2020, FIA registered 24 FIRs against the accused across the country. This year, 2 cases were registered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 11 in Punjab, 6 in Sindh, 2 in Balochistan and 3 in Islamabad.

In the first six months of 2023, reported cases of child rape not only increased, but the number is higher than that of girls. This report has been issued by the Punjab Police. The report said that during the first six months of 2023, 1,390 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in Punjab province, including 959 cases of boys (69 percent) and 431 cases of rape (31 percent) of girls.

The highest number of cases were reported in Gujranwala with 220 cases. According to the report, the number of rape incidents was 199 in Dera Ghazi Khan, 128 in Sheikhupura, 89 in Lahore, 69 in Rawalpindi, 103 in Sargodha.

Similarly, 185 cases of rape were reported from Faisalabad, 127 from Sahiwal, 140 from Multan and 129 from Bahawalpur. The report said that in 55 percent of the cases, the accused of rape are neighbors, while in 13 percent of the cases, the accused is a relative and 32 percent are strangers.

According to the report, parents' desire to subject their children to medico-law is an obstacle in this regard.

The report further indicated that lack of support from family members, friends and neighbors or the community can lead to victim isolation, making them reluctant to share their experiences with the abuser.

The report states that socio-economic pressures, unemployment, low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, isolation and psychological distress are among other factors responsible for child abuse.

The report states that sexual exploitation of children in Pakistan is influenced by many social factors, and that patriarchal norms, power imbalances, poverty, illiteracy and social inequality increase children's vulnerability.

Additionally, victim-blaming attitudes and lack of awareness about children's rights compounded the challenges in tackling and preventing crime.

The report states that Pakistan has enacted several laws to combat child sexual exploitation such as the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2016, the Prevention of Child Abuse Act 2018 and the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act 2020. However, effective enforcement, and coordination between relevant agencies is essential for justice for victims and punishment of perpetrators.

Sahal, an organization working for children's rights since 1996, has stated in its report that an average of 12 children were sexually abused in Pakistan from January to June 2023. And a total of 2,227 cases have occurred.

The report states that a total of 2,227 cases of child abuse were reported in the year 2023 and in the first 6 months of 2023, there were 457 cases of girls aged 6 to 15 years while 593 cases were of boys.

The report said that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) tracked the activities on the dark web where a total of 53 cases of obscene content were reported during the last six months.

According to the report, a total of 963 cases of accidents or violence against children were reported, 760 children died, 268 children drowned, 148 children were killed, 144 children died in road accidents and 61 children died. committed suicide

According to Sahil data, during the first six months of 2023, 2,531 accused were involved in child abuse and in most cases they were found to be related to or known to the victims or their families.

The report said that in 912 cases, the abusers were acquaintances, while in 498 cases, strangers committed such crimes, while 215 cases of abuse were committed by both strangers and acquaintances.

The report added that in 16 percent of the cases reported between January and June, the crime was committed at the place of the abuser, as abusers lure innocent children into their place. However, in most cases, the crime scene remains unknown.

The report said rape was committed on the streets in 31 percent of cases, at the victim's place in 11 percent of cases, in fields in 4 percent of cases, and in places of worship and education.

According to the report, 88 percent of all cases were registered with the police while 25 cases were either not registered or the police refused to register.

Moreover, 45 percent of the cases were reported from rural areas and 55 percent from urban areas. The highest 74% of cases were reported from Punjab, followed by 14% from Sindh, 7% from Islamabad, 3% from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and remaining 2% from Balochistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

In this regard, Hina Altaf, a child clinical psychologist, says that "a very traumatic experience of sexual abuse in childhood can cause lifelong psychological problems. Therefore, parents should not only report such incidents, but also children." The health and rehabilitation of children should also be addressed. Especially if children cannot express themselves because of fear, it destroys their whole personality."

Various researches conducted on the incidence of children indicate that one in five children in Pakistan is a victim of sexual violence before reaching the age of 18 years. The emotional and psychological damage caused by sexual violence is very damaging to the child.

Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister says, "Such incidents have been happening not only in Madrasahs but also in schools and I think the only solution to stop them is to severely punish those responsible for such incidents. Regarding prevention in madrasas, we had written to madrasas across the country to make a complete data of all such readers whose names have come up in relation to such incidents. should be distributed so that no one can employ them and if any person's name is even on the basis of suspicion, he should be immediately dismissed."

 The writer is a freelance journalist.

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