Khairpur              -          The suspect allegedly involved in sexually abusing minor students in Sindh’s Khairpur district was arrested by police on Friday evening, police announced on Twitter.

The retired schoolteacher was found to be allegedly involved in committing sodomy with minor students whom he tutored at a private property, officials and activists said.

Sukkur range Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Fida Hussain Mastoi earlier said police had conducted a raid at the suspect’s hometown but he had managed to escape. The DIG also confirmed the scandal that went viral in Khairpir and across the country.

A picture showing the teacher allegedly sodomising a minor boy was widely shared on Twitter, with residents and activists demanding immediate arrest of the suspect and justice for the victims.

Two first information reports (FIR) have been registered against the teacher on rape charges as well as under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997, on the complaint of parents of two children who were allegedly victimised by him. “Schoolchildren were going to his tuition centre at a private premises since government schools are currently closed” due to the coronavirus pandemic, the DIG said. Both the FIRs have been registered at Thari Mirwah Police Station.

The suspect had retired recently from a government job as a schoolteacher. He was alleged to have raped one of his pupils, filmed the ghastly act and then made it viral. He has also been accused of forcing his students to commit sodomy with each other. All the students who were studying at his tuition centre were aged between 10 to 12 years. “A video of one boy doing all this with his friend was also filmed and made viral,” DIG Mastoi said. He said that the teacher appeared to be normal and he had been seen photographed with many prominent personalities in Khairpur as well.

According to a local journalist, those who made the sexual abuse videos go viral are members of the suspect’s gang as well.

Police confirmed that the student shown committing sodomy with another boy in a video was underage. Police traced the boy but his parents said their son had himself been a victim of rape and was forced to record this in order to be shared on social media.

Reports indicate that the teacher, a resident of village Nangar Shar in Khairpur’s Faiz Ganj taluka, was also previously charge-sheeted in some other crime as well.

He also faced double murder charges that were not proven and he moved to Thari Mirwah from Faiz Ganj in the backdrop of the charges.

Police have learnt that the suspect also got the relatives of a young boy implicated in a false case when the boy resisted being involved in an illicit relationship with him.

Calls for action

Civil society activists reacted strongly to the revelations, demanding the authorities to take notice of the case.

Prof Mushtaq Mirani urged Facebook users against sharing the pictures of a boy who was seen being abused by the suspect. “These pictures will kill the boy psychologically when he grows up,” he wrote.

Related: Here’s how to talk to your kids about sexual abuse

One Zulfikar Halepoto wrote that the incident showed that such psychosocial behaviour towards children and mindset is not limited to religious persons or seminaries. “Even progressive and liberal people are prone to this sick mentality. Effective rule of law can prevent this,” he argued.

Amar Sindhu, a women’s rights activist, said that the suspect allegedly not only “raped 132 children” but also forced them to have group sex with each other. “Those videos are in circulation so there is more to it. It can be a Kasur-like scandal as well so police should look beyond this single video,” she added.

The Kasur scandal

In 2015, in Kasur’s Hussain Khanwala village, videos were made of at least 280 children being sexually abused by a gang who later blackmailed their parents by threatening to leak the videos and received money from them.

Police, who had conspicuously failed to act in that case despite pleas from some parents, eventually made dozens of arrests after clashes between relatives and authorities brought the issue into the media spotlight.

Sindhu demanded the formation of a commission on child rights, like the commission on human and women’s rights. “All child abuse cases should be tried in separate speedy tribunals as such incidents are increasing,” she said, fearing that the videos might be used on the dark web.

More than eight children abused every day

A report by the NGO Sahil had revealed in March that a total of 2,846 child abuse cases were reported from across the country in 2019, with data showing that more than eight children suffered some form of abuse every day in Pakistan last year.

The major crime categories of the reported cases were 778 abductions, 405 missing children cases, 348 sodomy cases, 279 rape cases, 210 attempted rapes, 205 gang sodomy cases and 115 gang rapes.

According to the NGO’s report, the gender divide showed that out of the total 2,846 cases of child abuse, 54 per cent of the victims were girls and 46pc were boys.

Age-wise information showed that children are most vulnerable to abuse in the age group 6-15 years.

The research revealed that children as young as 0-5 years were also sexually abused.