Child abuse in Pakistan

Children who are victims of this menace lead a difficult life as they have to deal with this trauma for the rest of their lives

Child Abuse is unfortunately a common occurrence in Pakistan which tries to cover itself under the guise of religion but it is shocking and sad that pedophilia or child abuse is rampant in Pakistani society. The infamous Zainab case in Kasur and the Kasur child abuse scandal are just two infamous incidents which present a very crucial picture of the disease that is plaguing our society and government officials and other important persons fail to address this issue and even if they do, it is too late and the cycle continues.

Child abuse haunts Pakistani society due to many reasons. There are often chances that the perpetrator might be a family member and the lack of communication gap between parents and their children and their blind trust for family members contributes to child abuse occurring in this society.

The Zainab Ansari case in Kasur and the Kasur Child Sex Abuse Scandal sent shockwaves across Pakistan and overseas haunted Pakistan and overseas. However, it is important to note that there are several cases which go unreported or are not often highlighted by the media. Pedophilia in Pakistan can also be dated back to the horrific period of Javed Iqbal, a serial killer from Lahore who lured about a 100 young boys and killed them. He committed suicide in his prison cell in 2001.

But even before Javed Iqbal, there might have been several child abuse cases occurring in different parts of the country. Unfortunately due to a weaker and restrictive media set up, the lack of accurate reporting and resources, it is hard to verify how many such cases occurred in the pre-internet days.

According to a report from Sahil, an NGO working for a safe environment for children and tackling child abuse there were about 2,321 cases of child abuse in 2007, 1838 in 2008, 2012 in 2009, 2252 in 2010 and 2303 in 2011.

Sahil also publishes an annual report which is referred to as 'Cruel Numbers' indicating how many cases of child abuse have occurred in the country. In 2017, as per the report about 3445 cases were reported and the 2018 edition of the report indicated an alarming increase in child abuse cases.

The scenario of Pakistan regarding child abuse in 2018 was quite alarming. Compared to 2017, child sexual abuse cases increased from 9 cases per day to 12 cases per day. As per the Cruel Numbers report compiled by Sahil, 2232 cases were reported from the four provinces as well as Islamabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. According to the data 56% victims were girls and 44% were boys.

A gang involved in the raping of children in Attock and a teacher molesting students in Mirpurkhas all occurring in the year 2018 are just small cycles of a bigger picture which is far more damning.

According to Sahil’s Cruel Numbers 2018 report, statistics indicate that 65% cases were in Punjab, followed by 25% in Sindh, 3% in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 2% in Balochistan and 21 cases in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Punjab topped the most cases of child abuse in the country with 65% cases. The Child Protection and Welfare Bureau were only able to rescue 11 children in the province. In Attock, a gang operated was involved in the raping of minor boys and posting their videos on the internet. Similar to the pattern of Kasur child abuse scandal, Okara was revealed as another hub where child abuse has occurred at the same scale in Kasur and it is believed that the two gangs are linked to each other. According to a report titled Mapping of Issues and Response to Sexual Violence against Children, Punjab was considered as the most dangerous province for children.

Sindh came in second with 25% of cases. Residents of KhadimGoth in Malir in Karachi caught an adult man Faheem red-handed while she was trying to molest a six year old. The police refused to register a case against him as according to them the father of the child had not lodged a complaint. It was only due to the intervention of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker in Sindh Assembly Dua Bhutto that some faith was restored and it was promised that the accused will be brought to justice. Despite the fact that according to law, the minimum age of marriage is 18 years, child marriages are still rampant in the province. According to Sahil, 274 child marriages were reported in 2018 which is the highest among the four provinces.

As per Sahil, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) came in third with the number of child abuse cases at 3%. In December 2018 two tragic incidents occurred in the same week in two different cities in the provinces. Both victims were girls. A 9 year girl was sexually tortured to death and her body was found in a graveyard in Nowsherra while a 3 year old girl was raped and killed after being kidnapped in Havelian near Abbotabad. (Shamsi, 2018). In October 2018, a school principal in Peshawar was handed 105 years in prison for child abuse and rape of many minors who were from his school.

2% of child abuse cases were reported in Balochistan according to Sahil’s report. A detailed report in English Daily highlighted how child abuse went unnoticed in the streets and hotels the provincial capital, Quetta leaving long-term scars on the children abused.

In Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 21 cases were reported as per Sahil. Although not highlighted much in the media, there was a case of young boy sexually assaulted in 2018 in Bagh district but there were many other incidents that went unreported in that region.

It is important to mention here that the above reports have been taken from Sahil’s Cruel Numbers, the mapping of issues and response to sexual violence among children and some reports from newspapers, television channels and websites. There might be severe cases of child abuse which may have not been presented in these mediums, however even if this data is incomplete. It should still be a wake up call for authorities to act swiftly regarding this.

Despite the fact that cases like the Zainab incident and Kasur scandal which has been highlighted in the media has given some coverage to the horror of child abuse, it is still not enough. There are many reasons why abusers act in such a manner even though their crime should not be justified nor endorsed. The abuser might be a victim of child abuse themselves and act in this manner in order to try to cope with his past trauma and not thinking straight and may be mentally challenged. In such a conservative society, the lack of sex education, access to pornographic content, drugs and being affected by wrong forms of popular culture can have a negative impact on a person’s thought process due to which he acts in such a manner.

Children who are victims of this menace lead a difficult life as they have to deal with this trauma for the rest of their lives. Some are able to leave it behind and others cannot let it go which has a negative impact on their mental health affecting their way of life such as in school, the workplace or in social interactions.

In the case of Zainab Ansari, the accused was awarded the death penalty. While from an emotional aspect, this seemed like an appropriate decision at the time of need, it does not prove effective to end child abuse. To deal with this horror that has grasped our society, it is important to take measures from a grass root level. Protection services need to be improved and the criminal justice system has to be reformed. Appropriate and proper training should be provided by the Pakistani government to police, doctors, NGO’s and those dealing with this subject in order to provide a protective environment for children in Pakistani society. Last but not the least sex education should be mandatory in the Pakistani education system and the taboo regarding it should be erased so our children can live in a safer environment.

The writer is a media studies student at the Beaconhouse National University (BNU) Lahore and a freelancer. He can be reached via Twitter at Turyal Azam Khan.

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