We see our future in the eyes of our children. Still there are people around us in the same vicinity, at times known to us, who keep an evil eye on children. Few week ago, horrible details about rape and killing of four children in a small town of Chunian of district Kasur of Punjab made headlines in the news in the media and sent waves of horror and anguish across the country. It was more disturbing because all alarms remain dormant after first or second incident of missing children from same area by any public agency.

Punjab Police was already under tremendous pressure due to another barrage of allegations, mostly untrue, about custodial killings. Soon after the media’s cameras focused on Chunian, all efforts were combined to investigate all the cases with highest level of input from Political leadership to Police command and local population. Police reached to final conclusion in a very short time of three week and culprit was hunt down being a repeated offender of child molestation and now he is behind the bars with undeniable evidence of DNA matching and human intelligence by Kasur Police as reported in front of all media by the high ups to the satisfaction of parents of the victims. However, story does not end here.

During these three week, a lot of frustration was shared by the people, civil society, political figures and general public about lack of formal mechanisms to address the issues of violence against children and abuse. In January 2018, when a rape and murder case of six years old Zainab Ansari of Kasur came to the fore, similar reaction was exhibited by these groups and despite some claims no information sharing mechanisms were developed. One reason was an ad hoc response and traditional approach to walk from crisis to crisis without contemplating and without learning from these situations even in a reactive manner. As soon as the crisis is subdued and camera of media men focuses on another hot issue, the previous issue goes on back burner. So, prioritization of public issues and agenda setting is in the hands of media but the implementing mechanisms has also a very short attention span on real issues.

But this is not the whole truth about media in Pakistan. As the news are hitting the screens and handsets through electronic and social media, the level of public awareness is also increasing. Police officers, social workers, civil society members, opinion makers all rely on media for information. There may be difference of opinion about policies of various media houses due to their leaning towards one side or the other, however, media is the most dominant awareness raising tool in Pakistan till today. The formats have changed but role remains the same. People have their own preferences and choices which they must exercise while logging in to one platform or the other or while pushing up or down the channel list on tv or radios. However, the media plays vital role in creating awareness among the masses including public, civil society and state institutions in a fastest manner in real time. The impact of this awareness is also instantaneous in some cases.

During last four week, palpable change is there from Police and public to respond to the incidents of child abuse. Punjab Safe Cities Authority has developed in August 2019, a province wide Police Unified Command and Response system (PUCAR 15) for responding to emergencies on the directions of Chief Minister Punjab and Provincial Police Officer. The PUCAR 15 centres in the districts have also established Lost and Found Centers (LFC) to collate data about child abuse and missing children. Due to these centres, 380 children have been united with their parents by Police officers in Punjab post Chunian incident. It is not only the response but also morale boosting act for the officers who very proudly take pictures with the children and parents and display these pictures as medals on their walls and make viral on the social media. Senior management of Police also encourages this gesture and in fact it has become a key performance indicator rather than an act of kindness by the Police officers. It is important to mention that PSCA has united 134 children with their families post Zainab Ansari case of Kasur in Lahore only. However, PSCA was well equipped with cameras all around city and now rest of the areas of Punjab are realizing the importance of technology oriented policing. Police has started deploying cameras in many cities like Mianwali, Rahim Yar Khan, Gujrat, Sialkot, Vehari, Hafizabad and Bahawalnagar.

Timely reporting from public is also very important for tracking the missing children. It is observed that people are using the PUCAR 15 system to report to Police as soon as they know about any incident of missing child. It is not only in case of missing child but also when people are observing any suspicious act with a child or when they find an unaccompanied child. Limited Data is available about child abuse cases and such mechanisms are only limited to Punjab but highlighting issues of child abuse by Media has sensitized the general public to be more vigilant. PSCA has developed a SOS Red Alert system for officers of the level of SHO and DSP who will be first responders in such cases. A dedicated whatsApp number is also shared on websites to share pictures of the lost children with PSCA and Police. The taboos of blaming the victim for his/her abuse are broken and people have understood that they have to stand with the victim. Police is also taking it as a key professional work to respond to emergency calls related to missing children.

All this is possible in Pakistan today due to power of awareness. Media and analysts have raised voices for systematic response to address the child abuse cases. Punjab Police spent 250 million Rupees in DNA testing to find the culprit. If same amount was spent on raising awareness and in raising awareness among the people about children rights and importance of child care, it is quite possible that such incidents could have been averted in first place. There is need to have active Police emergency response systems all over the country to save lives of children and to save thousands of parents from agony and life long regrets of losing their children. Post incident, populist measure for public appeasement are not the solution of the problems of child abuse. Awareness raising is the antidote of ignorance and bigotry.

The views expressed are personal and do not represent any department or public agency.