Multiple sex scandals have shaken Punjab over the years. Despite media reports, FIRs, arrests and mass outrage in recent years, child abuse cases continued to erupt throughout the province in 2019. As reports of minor rapes and murder emerged throughout the year, critics deem it a result of the incompetence of the police and the lack of resolve of the government and the state.

The most prominent scandal in the country’s history was the Kasur abuse scandal in 2015. The Nation broke the story of a series of child sex abuses in Hussain Khanwala Village of Kasur district. The report revealed that around 300 children, mostly boys, were raped and then video-taped. Investigation further revealed that a local ring was behind the abuse, with the case only coming to light after people of the village protested and clashed with the police for not having taken action.

The exposé led to a nationwide uproar, with cases filed in an Anti-Terrorism Court in Lahore. In 2016, the Senate passed the bill criminalising sexual assault against minors, child trafficking and pornography for the first time in history of Pakistan. Previously, only acts of rape and sodomy had been punishable under the law.

While the Kasur abuse scandal was deemed massive enough to result in the requisite policymaking, child abuse cases have continued to emerge in Punjab – even Kasur. In January 2018, 12 minors went missing within one year in 10 kilometers radius of the city.

The 12th missing child was Zainab Amin. She had disappeared on January 4 and her raped and tortured body was found on January 9 from a heap of garbage. The incident caused another nationwide uproar, protests, extensive media coverage, with another probe being launched. DNA evidence proved that the suspect was involved in at least another seven similar incidents.

The police arrested Imran Ali, a neighbour of the minor and charged him with rape and murder. In February, ATC handed Ali death sentence, which was later sustained by Lahore High Court, Supreme Court and the President of Pakistan. Imran Ali was hanged in October 2018.

After the gruesome incident, the government once again prepared a law under the name of ‘Zainab Alert Bill’ to curb the incidents of rape and sex abuse of children. The bill was passed in October this year, paving the way for Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) designed to cater to cases of missing children.

Even so, where legislations were passed after considerable delays and national resolves to never allow such incidents to take place again were reverberating, Kasur appears to remain immune from any concrete efforts to curtail child abuse .

On September 18, bodies of three minor boys were recovered from the Chunian Tehsil of Kasur. 12-year-old Muhammad Imran, 8-year-old Suleman Akram and 9-year-old Ali Husnain had gone missing in June, August and earlier in September respectively. The incident once again led to major protests and even suspension of two police officers.

The police investigation once again revealed that a serial killer was behind the rape and murders. In October, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar announced the arrest of a suspect named Suhail Shehzad, who had spent time in jail under charges of sodomy. The police caught him after DNA testing and tracing his mobile records.

A report by the NGO Sahil showed a 61 percent increase sodomy cases last year. The report underlines that over 1,300 cases were reported from January to June this year; 652 of these cases – making over 50% – have been from Punjab.

The report maintains that weak investigation, faulty judicial system and an underdeveloped medical examination system are major causes behind the continuation of these cases. 

“There are laws in the country, but they aren’t being implemented. What the government needs to do is take the required actions, including budgetary allocations, to improve the law enforcement for children’s rights,” said child rights activist Arshid Mehmood.

“A national campaign ‘Pakistanis Against Child Abuse’ has also been launched against child sexual abuse. The aim of the campaign is to ensure that all of Pakistan, including families, parents, parliamentarians, media, students, all work on it collectively to protect our children from all kinds of violence,” he added.

Child protection activist Mumtaz Husain also urges nationwide action to curb child abuse maintaining that all institutions and individuals need to play their part.

“Until we start the campaign from grassroots, especially targeting those vulnerable areas where the majority of the child abuse cases come from, the violations would continue to grow,” he said.

“Zainab’s murderer Imran was hanged to death, as a short-term solution. But since Zainab’s case till now, hundreds of children have been murdered after sexual abuse. So we have to think if capital punishment can eradicate child abuse or if we need other policies.”