Zainab’s tragic murder has jolted the conscience of every citizen of the country. The incident has caused shock and concern owing to the magnitude of crime and the fact that Zainab was the twelfth victim of child abuse in Kasur – a city where such heinous offences have surfaced at regular intervals without any leads on who the real culprit is.
The tragedy symbolises the decay of our moral and social fabric and represents the triumph of atrocious brutality over innocence. On a deeper level, the incident has exposed the increasing vulnerability of our children, the failure of our law-enforcement agencies and the weakening of our administrative competence.
The failure of the police became apparent owing to their slow and indifferent response to the horrific crime before it gained the requisite media attention. This apathetic attitude has undoubtedly eroded the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the people.
However, this is not the first instance of nonchalant ease displayed by the law-enforcement agency. Three years ago, a child sex abuse racket involving hundreds of children was unearthed in Kasur and the inability of the police to find the culprits explains the reasons for the spike in child abuse in the city. However, it is important to look beyond the veneer of neglect and examine the crumbling institution of the police as a whole, which is heavily politicised, lacks autonomy and is often under the direct command and control of the ruling elite.
It is ironic that instead of improving the woeful image of the police, preference is given to unfairly selecting dishonest officers. Without making appointments on the basis of merit and giving autonomy to the police, it is unlikely that the incidence of such crimes will be discouraged.
If honest and efficient police officials are deputed in every district, incidents such as those that have occurred with impunity in Kasur and other parts of the country will be tackled with an iron fist. The incidence of such offences will also dwindle because competent police officers will be committed to serving the people and combating crime without having an axe to grind.
Many years of neglect in some of the most important areas of public sector development – such as health, education and unemployment to say the least – have given rise to a host of disgruntled people who vent their frustration by resorting to crimes of the most heinous nature. When they are aided by a weak criminal justice system that lets them go scot-free, it is not rare that incidents like the rape and murder of Zainab occur with frequency.
The vulnerability of children has once again come to the forefront. What measures are being taken by the social welfare department and child protection bureaus in our country for the wellbeing of children? Is there any agenda or roadmap to prevent abuse and address the needs of rape survivors? Will there be more Zainabs whose freedom of movement will remain at risk? Will such events continue to haunt us in the future as well?
It is interesting to note that Zainab’s parents have asked the chief justice and the army chief to take action in the matter. This highlights the collapse of the people’s faith in government institutions. After all, the purpose of these institutions is to protect the weak, vulnerable and underprivileged and not only the powerful and influential segments of society.
Statistics have revealed that 11 children are raped and sodomised every day in Pakistan and many of them are often killed. But many cases go unreported due to social taboos and the inefficiency of the police. Tackling child sexual abuse demands strict legislation; strengthening the criminal justice system; empowering child protection departments; creating awareness through the curriculum; and paying attention to the vulnerable children in seminaries, madressahs, factories, schools, streets and homes.
It is time we invested all our energy and resources in building awareness among our children to protect them from the menace of child abuse.
The writer holds an LLM degree ininternational economic law from the University of Warwick.