The frightening lengths to which teenagers will go
There was no school, places were closed and you could not go anywhere. If life was small for 16-year-old Saba in North Karachi, it grew smaller still when the government started a lockdown in March last year. It was only her cell phone that provided a link to the outside world and people to interact with. PUBG was a blessing in disguise.
In this online game, up to one hundred players parachute onto an island unarmed. They have to scavenge for weapons to defend themselves and have to kill others off. When you play you get on to voice chat with other players and can team up together to survive. PUBG boys playing in Pindi can make friends with surfer dudes in LA, such is its global player mechanism.
And so, when Saba started playing she met all sorts of players. But one of them, Furqan, she grew close to. He was 19 years old and lived in a small village close to Sheikhupura. He was a high school dropout and worked in a mobile phone repair shop.
Meanwhile, Saba’s father Rustam, who worked in a textile dyeing unit, grew irritated with his youngest child’s mobile phone gaming addiction. Saba was the baby of the house, the “ladli bachi” and so when Rustam exploded at her in anger on the night of April 3, she did not take it well.
The next morning when Rustam woke up at 8am Saba was still asleep. But by the time her mother woke up at 11am, the teenager was gone. Someone in the family coughed up the information that Saba had been in regular contact with a boy on PUBG whose social media account went by the handle ‘Lahori Bacha’. According to Rustam’s elder daughter, she got calls during the day from someone who asked for Saba, but when she told him that she was her elder sister, he cut the call.
The Sir Syed police registered an FIR (No 283/ 2021) under Section 364-A for kidnapping or abducting an underage person of Pakistan Penal Code against an unidentified man. Though, it was a kidnapping case, the investigation was transferred to the Anti-Violent Crime Cell. On April 7, the AVCC raided the bus terminal at Sohrab Goth and arrested two young men, Furqan was among them. They recovered Saba.
“One day I got a call from Saba and she told me that she would run away from home as her father was continuously angry with her for using the mobile phone,” Furqan told Samaa Digital. “She told me to come to Karachi and warned that if I refused she would commit suicide.”
He decided to go to Karachi, but was frightened because he claims he had never visited the city before. So Furqan enlisted the help of a friend, Sultan, whose relatives lived there. “Sultan and I came to Lahore on April 3 (Saturday) where I told him the actual story,” Furqan said. “Sultan told me that if Saba committed suicide then the police would trace me with her Call Data Record.”
Furqan was frightened when Sultan told him that the police would come to their village and arrest him and his parents. “We decided to go to Karachi to see her,” he said. They went to Lahore Railway Station and took the Pakistan Express.
Furqan was constantly in touch with Saba throughout. When the boys arrived in Karachi on Sunday at 11am, they tried calling her but her phone was off. This was the point at which she had left home. As she knew she could be traced, she kept her phone off.
When Furqan called a number Saba gave him in case her phone was ever off, he found her sister on the other end. Her sister said she was not at home.
Meanwhile, the boys got in touch with Sultan’s cousin Sohail who picked them up from Cantt Railway Station and took them home. Furqan said he had no idea where it was because he was not familiar with Karachi.
When Saba finally switched her phone on Wednesday, the two agreed to meet at Sohrab Goth bus stand. By the time the two boys arrived there, the police were lying in wait. When asked why they had agreed to meet and what their motive was, Furqan said that he just wanted to persuade Saba to return home.
Needless to say, the police are not buying much of Furqan’s story.
“We put Saba’s mobile number on tracking,” explained Investigation Officer Raheem Shah. “We kept tracking her, and on April 7 she switched on her mobile phone. We chased her and reached Sohrab Goth bus stand.”
According to him, Saba told the police that they planned to go to Rawalpindi by bus where the plan was to get a court marriage and then a honeymoon in Murree.
On April 8, Thursday, the AVCC produced Saba, Furqan and Sultan before the Judicial Magistrate Central-XIII where her statement was recorded under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. In light of her statement that she threatened Furqan that she would kill herself if he failed to come to Karachi, the court released Furqan and his friend on bail for Rs500,000 each, and returned Saba to her parents.
Names have been changed to protect identities