The writer is a Karachi-based research analyst and political consultant.
The recent kidnapping rape and murder of five-year-old Marwa in Karachi has brought back memories of Zainab Ansari who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Kasur back in 2018.
In March 2020, Pakistan’s first national child abuse law was passed with a penalty of life imprisonment for child abuse. Despite passing this law, child/teenage rape cases could not be controlled.
A helpline has been established to report missing children, and that Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) has been formed to issue an alert for a missing child. According to the law, ZARRA will coordinate with all relevant federal and provincial authorities and law enforcement agencies, and maintain an online database of all children reported missing or abducted with their current status.
According to a United Nations report, 15 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are raped globally. Over one million children in Asia are sexually harassed or targeted.
According to a report by Sahil, an Islamabad-based child protection NGO, 8 children were sexually abused every day in Pakistan in 2019. In 2019, a total of 2,846 cases of child abuse were reported from all four provinces of Pakistan, as well as Islamabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit Baltistan.
Sahil’s report states that 778 were abductions, 405 children went missing, 384 were cases of sodomy, 279 of rape, 210 of attempted rape, 205 of gang sodomy cases, and 115 of gang rape. Also, 104 child marriage cases were reported from across the country.
The majority of the victims, 54 percent, were girls, while 46 percent were boys. The most vulnerable age group was between six-15 years. Although children as young as 0-5 years were also sexually abused, stated the report.
Sadly, the most common perpetrator of child sex abuse was an acquaintance of the victim and the victim’s family. Out of a total of 1,304 cases, 614 cases were such where the abusers had acquaintance with the victims or the victim’s family. Overall, 142 cases were reported in which strangers were involved in abusing children.
During the first six months of 2020, Sahil reported 1,489 children were sexually abused with the victims comprising of 785 girls and 704 boys. Punjab registered the largest number of cases (853), followed by Sindh (477), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (91), Islamabad (35), Balochistan (22), AJK (10), and GB (1).
Many cases of child sexual abuse are not reported in the media due to due to social shame associated with such abuse. Also, the attitude of the police when reporting such cases is deplorable causing the victims and their relatives to be afraid and hesitant to report this serious crime to the police. Therefore, police reform is required with better educated and trained police officers who can sensitively handle child sexual abuse cases
It’s good to see that the Ministry of Human Rights (MOHR) has planned to carry out anti-child abuse awareness campaigns in schools but what about reaching the children who don’t go to school?
We need a mass media campaign to educate society on this grave matter using both traditional media and social media platforms.
Sadly, it seems that life imprisonment is not a strong enough deterrent for child abusers and pedophiles. There has been much debate inside and outside parliament over punishing convicted child abusers with the death sentence, as a majority of parliamentarians voted in favor of this.
Maybe the time has come that convicted child abusers receive capital punishment or else we need to do a better job in educating our society on this serious issue which hardly anyone wants to acknowledge or speak about as it is a taboo subject.
We owe the children of this nation a safe environment in which they can grow and develop without having to worry about harm from predators. Our civil society and governments must step up and make child protection a topmost priority.