ISLAMABAD - Civil society activists demanding enactment of specific laws for the trial of child sex abuse cases have urged the authorities and the media to protect the identity and dignity of the victims.

As there is no specific law to try juvenile sexual abuse cases and all such cases are heard under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code, the civil society activists have called upon the quarters concerned to hear the Kasur case under Anti-terrorism Act for exemplary punishment.

There have been cases in which the accused were sentenced under section 7of Anti-terrorism Act under which such crimes can be punishable to death, said Imtiaz Ahmad, legal aid officer at Sahil, a nongovernmental organisation that works against child sexual abuse.

Such cases are registered under section 376 of Pakistan Penal Code most of the times that is only punishable to life imprisonment due to ignorance of the parents and apathy of the police, he said. Due to the magnitude of the crime and its impact on the society it should be tried under ATA so that the perpetrators be hanged to death for abusing the minors, he stressed.  

A largest-ever child sexual abuse scandal was reported in Pakistan’s history after the discovery of 400 videos recording more than 280 children in District Kasur being forced to have sex and then coerced to pay money to the blackmailers for years.

Child abuse is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan that is included among the ten countries around the world with the highest number of child homicide rates. According to Sahil, a staggering 3508 number of child sexual abuse were reported in 2014 including 8 cases which were directly reported to Sahil and it brings the number of abused children to 10 per day.

This figure also shows an increase of 17 percent from the previous year. The major crime category of rape/sodomy including gang rape and gang sodomy show that there were 1225 cases and 258 cases of attempted rape/sodomy, gang rape and gang sodomy. An even more serious crime is committed when the victim is murdered. And according to the Sahil report a total of 142 victims were murdered after sexual assaults last year.

Province–wise division shows that 2054 cases of abuse were reported from Punjab, followed by 875 cases reported from Sindh, 297 from Balochistan, 152 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 90 from Federal Capital Islamabad 38 from Azad Jammu Kashmir, 1 case from Gilgit-Baltistan and one case was reported from FATA.

About 108 cases were reported from district of Kasur that is included among the most vulnerable districts to such cases. It was not new thing hearing about such a scandal in Kasur that has been amongst the top places in terms of child abuse cases, remarked Habiba Salman, Senior Programme officer at Sahil.

Another nongovernmental organisation SPARC - Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child-- provides startling revelations on the state of violence against children in Pakistan.  Calculating data from reported cases from January 2000 to December 2013 it says that about 4,572 rape cases were reported in Pakistan while 3,429 cases of Sodomy in the past 13 years.

Even shocking was the acceptance and predisposition towards violence among children and adolescents in Pakistan; for instance, the data revealed that 53 percent of girls and 34 percent of boys (between the ages of 15 and 19 years included in the survey) thought that a husband is justified in beating his wife under certain circumstances.

Children are more vulnerable to sexual violence because they lack awareness and power to resist, and any kind of such assaults leave lifelong impact on them, maintained Shabana Arif from Child Rihts Movement, a coalition of NGOs.

“Civil society have long been advocating to include sexual education in curriculum and enact specific laws to try such cases but the government is reluctant, nor it allows to impart sexual education to children fearing backlash from clergy”, she said.

The concerned department should seize all the record and no one be allowed to access it, stressed Zohair Waheed, Manager Research and Communication at SPARC. “The trial should be conducted keeping in view the dignity of the children and parents and their identity should be withheld as they paid money and got blackmailed for years just to keep safe their identity and hounor”.  

Such experiences leave life-long scars on the memory of the children and they go through mental trauma, said  Shabana Arif, even in many cases children commit suicide after such assaults. “During all this we should not forget that they should be provided psychological counseling to deal with suicidal behavior, depression, low self-esteem, and problems and to get back to life”.

In a statement the CRM Pakistan also strongly condemned the incident of child sexual abuse and reiterated its demand for speedy and inclusive legislation around child protection in Pakistan at both federal and provincial levels. Pakistan has ratified the UNCRC but has not yet approved the National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill, pending since 2001, which shall address such violations of constitutionally protected and multilaterally  ratified rights of children in the country, it said.

CRM observed that in this prevailing legal environment and insignificant progress on enacting legislation and its implementation around child rights in the country has left our children at the mercy of mafias and blackmailers around the country. State of Pakistan must own its children as equal citizens and must ensure exemplary legal proceedings so that the culprits of such basic human rights violations are brought to justice.