Recently, a 14 year old girl was raped in the area of Chohang in Lahore, and another minor was raped in her house in the village of Pakki-Kotli, Sialkot, last week. Regrettably, these two are not the only ones who fell victims to this barbarity. In February, a one and a half year old girl was raped and strangled by a neighbour in the Nazimabad locality in Karachi. Besides, in Pakistan, countless incidents of rape and gang rape of innocent minor girls have been taking place over the years. A five year old girl was repeatedly raped for more than an hour. A six year old girl was strangled and dumped near a garbage heap after being raped. A five year old girl, Sindhu Soomro, was gang-raped by her neighbours. Another a ten-year-old was raped by her father’s friend at her home. These inhuman activities take place very frequently in our society, and that, too, without any hesitation and fear – as if there is no existence of law that would punish these criminals.   

In Pakistan, like many parts of the world, child sexual abuse is the most pervasive form of violence against children. Child sexual abuse takes place in various locations such as in houses, schools and mosques.  Family members, relatives, acquaintances, neighbours and strangers – all have been found guilty of such crimes. Pakistani society is patriarchal society which is based on gender discrimination, an unnatural process, because male members dominate and treat women as inferior, especially in the rural areas of the country. Children, especially girls, who are victimized of sexual hunger, are mostly killed by their rapists but those who survive, are not given the right to enjoy a respectable status in society. It is difficult for them to go to schools and participate in social gatherings because they are welcomed with insults and ridicule everywhere. The society subjects them to the highest levels of prejudice. Male members are reluctant to marry them. They lead a painful and secluded life which eventually gets deadweight for them.

No specialized laws have been formulated in Pakistan to counter child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of children is recognized as a form of violence in the clauses of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 1860. In this context, any form of consent given by a child (under twelve years of age) leading to sexual contact with an adult is invalid under Section 90 of the PPC. Furthermore, child molestation is recognized as an act of terrorism by the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. But the punishments awarded by the existing laws in Pakistan to the perpetrator of these heinous crimes committed against innocent lives are insufficient and incommensurate.

According to UNICEF’s estimates, child marriage is one of the main forms of child sexual abuse and exploitation of girls, which, as we know, is a widespread phenomenon in Pakistan. Approximately 37 percent of females get married before reaching the age of 18 years and 70,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 die each year during pregnancy and child birth in Pakistan. According to the Institute for Social Justice’s (ISJ) reports 2008-2009: in Pakistan, 24228 children from the age group 10-14 were married and 1029784 children from the age group 15-19 were married.

Though we have laws, such as “Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929”, which discourage marriage below the age of 18 for boys and 16 for girls, and “Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013” which discourages marriage below the age of 18 for both genders. Due to the lack of a proper implementation mechanism, the occurrence of child marriages is widespread throughout Pakistan. Child marriages are take place for various reasons such as customs and traditions, monetary benefits, lack of awareness among people, etc.

In Pakistan, according to the reports of Sahil, an Islamabad-based NGO, 2303, 3861 and 3002 incidents of child sexual abuse took place in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; 3% are relatives of the child, uncles or cousins; 2.5% cases are of incest, committed most often by brothers and fathers; around 50% are acquaintances, such as "friends" of the family; 3% are neighbours; 35% are strangers and 4% are others. This number is only a fraction of the total number of incidents since a large number of incidents are not even reported in order to secure the family’s honour, because most of these incidents take place around the household. Most child sexual abuse is committed by paedophile men.  

Victims who fall a prey to sexual abuse in childhood face a wide range of challenges in their lives. The findings of medical studies demonstrate that the survivors of childhood abuse might experience uncharacteristic feelings of stress, fear, depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, sexual disorders and suicidal behaviour, etc. Some survivors of sexual assault may use self-harm to cope with difficult or painful feelings, while some survivors report using substances like alcohol and drugs. They may feel significant distress and display a lot of short and long term psychological symptoms. They may feel powerless, ashamed, betrayed and distrustful to adults because someone they depended on has caused them great harm or failed to protect them.

This is an undeniable fact that sexual activity with a child is a criminal and immoral act which can never be considered normal or socially acceptable. It is the worst case of human rights violation. Such attacks are the outcome and evidence of the existence of moral degradation, barbarism and savagery in society. To purge our society of the curse of child sexual abuse, the government must take responsibility of monitoring and implementing the concerned laws, effectively. There is also a strong need of establishing institutions manned with professional individuals who can provide legal, moral and social assistance to the victims of such crimes.

It is about time the perpetrators of this vicious crime, who are as monstrous as terrorists who conduct suicide attacks, be awarded with punishments as severe as their heinous crime deserves.