As John Fitzgerald Kennedy the 35th US President puts it, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” Likewise, in the words of Herbert Ward, “Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.” 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 that present a very crucial picture of the disease that is plaguing our society. Government officials and other important persons fail to address this issue and even if they do, it is too late and the cycle continues.
Read more: Zainab: Daughter of Eve
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 issue of unreported cases
The Zainab Ansari case in Kasur and the Kasur Child Sex Abuse Scandal sent shockwaves across Pakistan and haunted Pakistanis overseas. However, it is important to note that there are several cases that 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 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 setup, 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.
A horrific picture of child abuse in Pakistan
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% of 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% of 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 the 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 the most dangerous province for children.
Sindh came in second with 25% of cases. Residents of Khadim Goth 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 the 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 Nowshera while a 3-year-old girl was raped and killed after being kidnapped in Havelian near Abbottabad. (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 in 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 a young boy sexually assaulted in 2018 in the Bagh district but there were many other incidents that went unreported in that region.
What causes child abuse in Pakistan?
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 that 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 the Kasur scandal which has been highlighted in the media have 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 acts in this manner in order to try to cope with his past trauma and is not thinking straight and is maybe 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.
Read more: Child abuse continues unabated 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. 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 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.
Just recently, a few days back the Lahore police had registered a case against Former Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F) leader and cleric Mufti Aziz-ur-Rehman and his two sons and arrested him for sexually assaulting one of his students. The case has been registered against him under Section 377 and Section 506 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860.
A judicial perspective on child abuse
More recently, the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan was seized with a matter pertaining to child abuse by a Judge of the lower judiciary and by his wife. In the case titled “Raja Khurram Ali Khan Versus Tayyaba Bibi (Minor) and another reported as PLD 2020 SC 146” a Full Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan was pleased to uphold the judgment of the Islamabad High Court and maintain the conviction and the sentence awarded by the Trial Court against child abuse towards Tayyaba Bibi (Minor).
In the year 2020, the Lahore High Court had granted bail to an accused in a case involving child abuse subject to furnishing of surety bonds of Rs/- 200,000/- on the ground that the prosecution was unable to prove enough evidence including the DNA test report that came negative to prosecute at this stage.
Read more: Role of DNA Evidence in rape cases
In the case of “Sakshi Versus Union of India reported as AIR 2004 SC 3566” the Supreme Court of India has also laid down the parameters/guidelines for dealing with child abuse cases.
The requirements are as follows; the questions put in cross-examination on behalf of the accused, in so far as they relate directly to the incident, should be given in writing to the presiding officer of the court who may put them to the victim or witnesses in a language which is clear and is not embarrassing; the victim of child abuse or rape, while giving testimony in court, should be allowed sufficient breaks as and when required.
Of course, the present case is an extreme case of child abuse where a body of eight has been sodomized and killed. But nevertheless, considering the menace of child abuse, deterrent punishment should be granted in cases of child abuse.
In the recent case titled “Aparna Bhat and others Versus State of Madhya Pradesh” reported as 2021 SCC Online SC 230, the Supreme Court of India went on to revoke the order given by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh that directed the accused of sexual assault to tie ‘Rakhi’ by the victim as a condition to obtain bail. The Bench clarified that reasonable directions have to be followed by the lower courts while determining bail petitions concerning the sexual assault matters against women.
In January 2021, the Supreme Court of India was pleased to stay a Bombay High Court order acquitting a man accused of child abuse as the Attorney General submitted that the judgment would set a dangerous precedent.
In a historic judgment for child sexual abuse victims, the Delhi High Court has increased interim compensation for Munna (name changed) from 50,000 to 6,00,000/- Indian Rupees. Munna was sexually abused by his own uncle and the act was caught on CCTV camera.
In a recent judgment, the Delhi High Court while being seized of with a matter pertaining to child abuse was pleased to hold that “An offence involving abuse of a child victim is unpardonable. Keeping in mind the nature of the offence, this Court is not inclined to reduce the sentence awarded to the petitioner to one of the sentences already undergone. Releasing the petitioner by reducing the sentence will send a wrong signal to the society and will be against the purpose for which the POCSO Act was enacted”.
Child abuse and maltreatment or neglect are serious problems that affect people from all walks of life all across the country. Preventing child abuse is not simply a matter of parents doing a better job, but rather it is about creating a context in which “doing better” is easier.
Enlightened public policy and the replication of high-quality publicly supported interventions are only part of what is needed to successfully combat child abuse. It remains important to remind the public that child abuse and neglect are serious threats to a child’s healthy development and that overt violence toward children and a persistent lack of attention to their care and supervision are unacceptable.
Individuals have the ability to accept personal responsibility for reducing acts of child abuse and neglect by providing support to each other and offering protection to all children within their families and their community.
As sociologist Robert Wuthnow has noted, every volunteer effort or act of compassion finds its justification not in offering solutions for society’s problems but in offering hope “both that the good society we envision is possible and that the very act of helping each other gives us strength and a common destiny” (Wuthnow, 1991: 304).
When the problem is owned by all individuals and communities, prevention will progress, and fewer children will remain at risk. In order to curb the menace of child abuse, strict implementation of the laws is the need of the hour and a serious thought process is required.
May Allah help and guide us all and may we be able to uproot the menace of child abuse forever!
The writer is an advocate high court practicing in Lahore and is a founding partner of Ahmed & Pansota (Advocates & Legal Consultants). He started his career with Cornelius, Lane & Mufti after doing Bar-at-Law from Inns of Court School Law, London, and was called to the bar at Lincolns Inn, London, in the year 2005. Barrister Pansota also figures as a legal analyst in a weekly talk show called Zanjeer-e-Adal on Capital TV and appears on other national TV channels. He also writes for various newspapers on current legal issues. He tweets @pansota1. The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.