Punjab’s leading child protection official has called for a federal inquiry into “the largest-ever child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history” after the discovery of 400 videos recording more than 280 children being forced to have sex. It should be made clear that harmful practices against children, including child abuse, go on with impunity and unfortunately lack prioritization by the authorities. The story of the abuse is harrowing. In many cases parents knew what had happened to their children, but authorities had been absolutely unwilling to take action against the perpetrators.

So far six alleged abusers have been arrested, five of whom have been remanded in custody. However, according to parents of the victims the abuse was orchestrated by a gang of up to 25 young men and teenagers led by two men in their 40s. It is said that this gang arranged the abuse, perpetrated it in many cases, and then used the videotapes of the assaults to blackmail the children and their families to hand over millions of rupees.

A few narratives of victims have been released, after the local police had tried to cover up the scandal and protect the perpetrators. What is almost painful to digest is that a local MPA of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had a crucial role in the withdrawal of the allegations against the main suspect in the case, after a 5 million bribe was paid. With dozens of clips in custody, showing abusers setting mobile phones to record footage, and victims asking if this will happen again, how did the area MPA not know of an entire village’s agony? It seems just like the police, he did. And he hushed it up.

Our culture of rape and shame is no longer tied to any legal repercussions or accountability. Victims are treated as the architects of their own distress and a majority of them are forced to be silent. We have seen this happen in the case of the abuse of women, but it has always been brushed under the carpet by blaming women for being provocative or immodest. What is the excuse for abusing children? When did we become a nation that protects the criminals, or have we always been this way? This is a sad day for a nation that takes pride in its patriarchy and images of male honour? Where is your honour now? This is a shameful day for men, for Punjab and for Pakistan.

With more than 40 percent of the total population under the age of 19 years, and a culture of abuse rampant, attempts to curb vulnerabilities should become a primary focus of the country. This is not the first time such horrors have been exposed, but the scale is shocking. We have always been called a dangerous country- we deserve the title.