The country reports eight child abuse cases every day
On October 7, yet another body of a minor was found in an open field near Peshawar. She was found 40km away from her home in Charsadda.
The child had been abducted, sexually abused and murdered. As if this wasn’t enough to make a normal person shudder, the poor child’s body had been mutilated – cut deep on her upper and lower torso.
This was a horrible déjà vu for Pakistan as it had several similarities with another crime committed two years ago in Punjab’s Kasur, when a seven-year-old girl was abducted, raped and murdered and her body dumped in a garbage heap.
Both girls were named Zainab, both were minors and both were abducted, raped, murdered and their bodies dumped in the open. The boldness of disposing the bodies in the open hints at the mindset of criminals, and indirectly at the value of the life taken.
The body of Kasur’s Zainab Ansari was found in a garbage dump right in the middle of the city for all to see. The shocking rape and murder resulted in a child protection law, the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020, that covers the whole Pakistan. The law came into effect in March 2020.
It was followed by the launching of Zainab Alert App for reporting missing children.
August and September 2020 have been equally cruel for children in Pakistan. In August, a five-year-old girl’s body was found in Karachi. The burned body was found in a garbage dump. She was raped and murdered after being kidnapped.
Then in September, another five-year-old girl in Punjab was raped after being hit on the head. Her body was then set on fire.
Crimes against minors have occurred in the society with many aware of them but choosing to ignore them.
In 1999, authorities caught child serial killer Dr Javed Iqbal who confessed to raping and killing more than 100 young boys in Lahore.
If proper action had been taken at the time to devise a system to enforce child protection laws, some lives could have been saved.
However, the lack of proper implementation of existing laws and improvement in them has allowed crimes against children to continue unabated. Some of these made headlines like the Kasur child sex abuse case in which hundreds of boys were sexually exploited and their videos made. The sex ring worked undeterred from 2006 to 2015, when it was exposed by a local reporter.
Even this didn’t draw the desired attention or action from the authorities as local reporters say minors are still being exploited there.
The rate of crime against children in Pakistan is high but it has increased during the coronavirus lockdown. More and more such cases are being reported in the media.
A report titled “Tracking Numbers: State of Violence Against Women and Children in Pakistan” by the Sustainable Social Development Organization states that child abuse and domestic violence cases have increased four times from January to June.
Punjab reported the highest number of these cases, followed by Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it says.
“There is a grave need to ensure the implementation of laws related to the protection of women and children at all levels, stating that the local government institutions and the police must play a proactive role in curbing this menace,” says Syed Kausar Abbas, the SSDO executive director.
Pakistan reports eight child abuse cases daily, according to Sahil, a child protection NGO based in the country. This should be enough for the authorities to spring into action.
The alarming thing is that the criminals are becoming bolder and more brutal as we have seen in these latest cases in which bodies of the victims were disfigured and burned. These acts and the psychology behind them need to be studied to profile criminals, so that the findings may help stop potential offenders.
People need to be aware of the laws – Pakistan has several to protect children including the Zainab Alert Law – that must be enforced to curb these crimes.
The judicial system has to be people-friendly and accessible to everyone. The government needs to run public awareness campaigns and build bridges between the public and the law enforcers to tackle this serious problem.
Strict implementation of existing laws is needed, and for this, it is vital that primary investigators are trained to lay strong foundations for the case.
If this is not done, Pakistan will lose more Zainabs to paedophiles.
— Lubna Jerar Naqvi is a Pakistani journalist who writes on social and human rights issues. She tweets at @raiseqalam