Exactly a month before Mr. Ashraf Javed of The Nation broke the story with shocking details of what he called country’s biggest child abuse scandal, there have been reports in some newspapers about the scandal. First time when this story appeared, it was probably first week of July when some 15 people were arrested as for sexual abuse and extortion. It was soon hushed up in the mainstream media that got back to bigger issues like a mysterious marriage of a rather unknown woman, Tanveer Zamani. When the media was showing those images of model Ayyan Ali seeking her bail, the parents of these fateful children were trying to get themselves heard by police, lawmakers and media. We were all adamant on fixing other issues.


It was not before Javed drew attention through his extremely provocative headline and shocking details of the story he filed three days ago. The Nation reported and the nation shrieked. And we got the state machinery gearing to move if not moving even then. We got the Child protection Bureau in motion. We got the Chief Minister ‘taking notice’. We got the entire mainstream media put it on the ‘breaking news agenda’. We got political parties galloping to Hussain Khanwala, a small village near Kasur for quick photo shoots and sound bites for electronic media. We got hordes of media and civil society rushing to the village. We got the process rolling for holding of a judicial inquiry into the scandal.


This was when we got the Chief Minister chair a high profile meeting in which, as per sources close to him, he admonished police officials who have been trying to cover it up with stories of land dispute etc. This was when the power of mainstream media and social media delivered us the national attention on an issue being neglected since long. According to the account of the mother of a victim, she went to the police station to file the complaint two years ago. The gang has been working since 2008 as per reports. One of the senior police officials admitted off the record that he knows the families of at least 200 victims. But, he said, he can’t do anything unless they come forward to file complains. The families on the other hand are stuck by the usual taboos as well as the fear. The perpetrators, they say, are politically very well connected and resourceful.


The problem is, I don’t care if the number is 284 or 200 or 20. As a parent, I am badly shaken to know about this and to realize how little protection is available to our children. How casually have we been taking the issues related to our children, and how remorselessly have we been ignorant about the compliance of international and national obligations that we have signed as a state party. Whatever little institutional mechanisms we have established so far, are practically inactive and ineffective if not completely defunct. Child protection is an unusual and odd concept here, not heard much in mainstream discussions.


This is not the first child abuse case that has captured national attention. Every few weeks there is a case of either a child domestic helper being brutalized or a child of either sex being raped, killed and dumped or a child being beaten to severe injuries by the teacher or a child being beaten to death or children being traded for sex or through marriages to settle property and other feuds. Earth doesn’t shake, and after a Peepli Live like coverage for couple of days, the media conveniently forgets all cases. So does the state.


As per a report compiled by the child rights organization Sahil, the total number of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) cases in 2014 stood at a staggering 3,508, which brings the number of abused children to 10 per day. Out of these, a total of 142 victims were murdered after sexual assaults. Keeping in view the frequency, variety and intensity of offences against children, there are some international obligations that need to be complied, there are laws that need to be implemented and there are policies and new laws that need to be promulgated. One cannot see it happening anywhere.
Punjab that has consistently shown increasing statistics of CSA cases, has a Child Protection & Welfare Bureau that actually runs a helpline too – dial 1121 in case you see a child being abused or below the age of 18 and victim yourself – among other things. The Bureau was established in 2005 under the Punjab Destitute & Neglected Children Act passed in 2004, amended in 2007. It would be instructive to read the progress and the financial reports of CPWB and knowing more detail about what kind of protection it has been offering.


While most children and their parents would not even know there exists a Child Helpline, the least the government could do is make it obligatory for such institutions to display their reports and finances on their website for public scrutiny. Widely advertise through media and specific campaigns about the helpline and other services that the Bureau or the government overall offers. Profit making media (most of which doesn’t feel it important to timely pay the salaries to its staff) must show corporate social responsibility and advertise these things as public messages. Since Punjab is not just Lahore, government must shake its bottom and reach out to people in every nook and corner of the province.


Empower provincial assembly and its committees to hold the institutions accountable. Give the responsibility to the public representatives to identify the victims and refer the CSA cases to the Bureau. But there we go. We elect people who have enough muscle power to influence the state system. Unknowingly or knowingly, we become a willing partner in rent seeking behaviour of the representatives. Resultantly, we get a ready crop of rent seekers and influential men of muscle who have power and habit of twisting the arm of law enforcing institutions for perpetuating and increasing their muscle power.


This muscle is then used by the offenders of law and perpetrators of crimes like the one we are lamenting right now. No wonder the victims’ parents in this case could not get justice throughout these weeks and months and in fact years. What does it mean when the victims’ families are repeatedly saying on media that the accused ‘are very influential people’? That’s right. They are well connected among all the spheres that are important to get justice in this country. The said MPA might not be a child molester himself, he made himself part of the crime when he (knowingly or unknowingly) tried to intervene and ‘reach a settlement between parties’. Some introspection among the politicians is highly recommended.


The inquiry and the justice to victims of this shocking and embarrassing case is highly desirable but is not sufficient. This case has to be taken as an opportunity to make our system deliver for each citizen – adult and child . Let’s repair the image of the country and credibility of the system by reforming it. That’s the least that the Chief Minister can initiate in Punjab so the other provinces could follow the suit.