The headlines of local newspapers, scream that it is ‘the largest –ever child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history’. The victims are about 300 children, most of them being under 14 years old, forced to have sex in front of the cameras of mobile phones. The perpetrators are a gang of 25 individuals, mostly 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.

These are things that are naively thought to not exist in Pakistan. Crimes like these only happen on Western ‘God-forsaken’ soil. With silence emulating from the local police and the MPA’s of that area, then the question is that why are we not more distraught by this news?

The police found 400 video tapes of these children, both girls and boys being sexually abused, ones that had thousands of copies being made of them, and were believed to have been sold for rupees fifty each, in Hussain Khanwala village, Kasur district. This stingy two-digit amount is the price that is being paid for these children, ones that had no other option other than to obey. Why was there nobody to stop these vile men conducting such a business? Where was the police? Where was the conscience of the men of the village? Why is it that these children, some that have been victims since almost ten years, were not able to cry out even once against this twisted fate? Was their plight taken so lightly? Many of the parents have identified their children as victims in the films. Some of the clips, show that the victims were abused for more than an hour. The ‘producers’ without any fear, without any repercussions, shot videos at different locations, in open fields, washrooms, bedrooms, and at deserted houses.

I cannot even start to fathom, how one should react if not with remorse and flashes of rage. These children had to replace their childhood, one that was supposed to be a memory of holding hands while walking towards school, playing cricket and listening to their parents telling them stories of a brighter future. Instead, they were forced to make sure their families were not hurt, or their ‘honor’ was somehow given back to them, if these criminals remained quiet.

In Pakistan, children grow up fast.

The local police and government of the area were prancing around with these predators. What should come as a shock, but doesn’t, is the involvement of the local MPA of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), playing a crucial role in the withdrawal of the allegations against the main suspect in the case, after a 5 million bribe was paid. The plot thickens, but so does the air around this fine chap, who denies such outrageous allegations, but claims that he is sympathetic to the protestors demanding justice, and has been personally following the case for about a month. Does he think that the public is that oblivious, or was it that he never thought he would actually have to face the media regarding this? I believe the latter was what he was going for; where from the accounts, those that have been brought out by the families of the victims, he along with the police, should also be seen as the main culprits.

One woman, being interviewed by a TV channel was asked why she never involved the police or the area MPA regarding the abuse that was being carried out against her son. The simple but heartbreaking response was that ‘Sab ko ghar dikhaya tha’ (We showed everyone the house). Despite her having alerted the police, the MPA, even showing them where the perpetrators lived; they simply looked the other way.

In Pakistan, child abuse is taken lightly.

A recent report on the subject of child abuse by a Supreme Court lawyer will have parents reconsidering the thought of raising their children on Pakistani soil. In 2014, around 767 children across Pakistan were raped and murdered, 368 children committed suicide, 201 were killed as part of honor killings, 189 became victims of human trafficking, 456 were kidnapped and 269 went missing. With these statistics being the small portion that has been actually recorded, it is safe to say that all provinces have failed to protect children. We call them the most vulnerable citizens of the country, but do nothing to make sure that they are never taken advantage of.

The policy regarding child protection is almost non-existent; where because of this culture of shame and silence by the victims we can never look forward. Concrete legislation is required, one that efficiently works to protect children from these exploitations. But we can never call ourselves advocates of children, if we do not break the taboo surrounding any talk regarding abuse. If a girl is abused, she will bring disgrace to her whole family, and if a boy is abused, his masculinity will be questioned, if he even dares to speak about it. We have given these criminals too much power. For, how long should we wait to change our culture and change our politics? Until these perpetrators are living in your neighborhood, observing your child when he or she goes to school in the morning?

The writer is a member of staff.