The fireball chief minister of Punjab after visiting the grieving parents of a sexually abused and later murdered girl aged six stated that a high ranking Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will be formed to bring the culprits of this horrendous crime to justice. Zainab’s body was found at a trash heap, almost two kilometers from her home in Kasur District. The news of a six year old, sexually assaulted and later brutally killed shocked the entire nation.

However, this gruesome incident bears an uncanny similarity to other cases where innocent children have been sexually abused in the past. According to police reports, Zainab’s was the twelfth child abuse case in a year in Kasur. In 2015, the infamous child pornography scandal in the district was uncovered, where sexually explicit videos of children were made and sold in the market. There was widespread uproar against the incident throughout the country along with the usual condemnations made by people in the highest echelons of power. Strict notice was taken by all state institutions who pledged to eradicate the ignoble disease of child abuse. Additionally, the same master of rhetoric, Shehbaz Sharif, constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) similar to the one announced by him on 11th January 2018 to investigate the incident. Efforts were also made by the Parliament to introduce legislation in order to curb this wicked offence.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2016, for the first time introduced the offence of child sexual abuse and child pornography by amending the Pakistan Penal Code of 1860 and inserting two new sections, 292-B and 377-A, dealing with child pornography and sexual abuse, respectively. These offences are punishable under the newly introduced amendment with a prison sentence extending to seven years and a fine of five hundred thousand rupees. Previously, there were no laws that dealt with the specific commission of child sexual abuse in the country.

However, despite these attempts, statistics indicate an awfully high number of child sexual abuse cases perpetrated in Pakistan. According to independent surveys conducted by non-government organizations, 11 children are sexually abused every day in the country. The vile trend of child sexual abuse is much more pervasive in rural areas than it is in urban centres of the country. According to a report, published by Sahil, an NGO working for child protection, 4,139 children fell victim to sexual abuse in Pakistan with an astounding 76% belonging to rural areas.

The ever-rising number of child sexual abuse cases shows that this evil cannot be eliminated by virtue of legislation alone. The growing number of occurrences heralds the social and moral degeneration that has permeated the society. Society as a whole needs to take dramatic steps in order to cure this disease as the government alone is incapable of eradicating child sexual abuse from the country.

Specialized education training programs pertaining to child sexual abuse should be initiated in educational institutions throughout the country. These programs should enlighten children about the issue of child sexual abuse and victimization, including how to react when a sexual offender approaches them. These programs should have components that are not only directed towards students but also instructors, teachers, parents and other youth service staff in the country. The responsibility for preventing such incidents from occurring in the future lies on parents, who should be sensitized through such educational programs so that they can take preventive measures and adopt appropriate safeguards. Parents should educate their children on the differences between a good touch and a sexual touch by a stranger or even a family member. Furthermore, religious scholars of the country should tackle the issue of child sexual abuse by inculcating a sense of responsibility in their followers and by introducing religious teachings against this social evil in their sermons and lectures.

The rampant incidents of child sexual abuse can only be countered by collective responsibility shared by our government, religious scholars, civil society, parents and educational institutions. Tragedies like the murder of Zainab can only be avoided in the future by adopting this approach and culprits can be brought to justice. We as a nation suffer from short-term memory loss and tend to forget horrible occurrences like the murder of Zainab soon after the media stops highlighting the same. However, the legacy of Zainab should be an increased awareness on part of our society to eradicate this social menace once and for all.

LLB (Hons) London, LLM (Warwick), Senior Associate AGHS Law Associates