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Opinion

August 16, 2015

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Devastated childhoods in Kasur

Child abuse is a violation of the most basic rights of children enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted by the UN in 1989, to which Pakistan is a signatory, exhorts member states to take ‘all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect a child from all forms of physical or mental violence, neglect or negligent treatment including sexual abuse’.
As has happened in numerous other cases, we have demonstrated that signing a global convention is one thing and fulfilling our obligations is quite another. Not surprisingly, therefore, we have failed miserably to protect our children as is evident from the ghastly episode in a small village near Kasur where at least 280 children were reportedly sexually abused. This had been going on for the last ten years and nearly 400 videos had been made and sold for as little as Rs50.
One report suggested that there is not a single child in the village who has not been affected from this human tragedy which has been termed as the worst of its kind in the history of the country. If this is true in this age of media, internet and mobile phones, we need to take pause and think of the depths to which our society has plunged.
If there was lack of trust in the police, which apparently was the case due to reported political influence, someone in the village could surely have mustered the moral courage to bring it to the notice of the media earlier, or is it that we all turn into selfish beings when we are not affected? Maintaining silence for ten long years is mind-boggling.
The Kasur tragedy has been made worse by reports that the police are apparently complicit, along with an influential local politician, in protecting the culprits from facing justice. In a recent rally, Imran Khan has once again referred to the report of Abbas Khan, who as former IG Punjab had stated that Nawaz Sharif’s

government had recruited nearly 25,000 policemen without consideration for merit and that most of them had criminal records.
Although this report is over two decades old and many of those allegedly recruited irregularly may have faded away, there is still reason enough to discuss it in parliament for a course correction. This will be a much greater service provided by our parliamentarians instead of frequently enacting the theatre of the absurd – like the recent debate on de-seating PTI parliamentarians and passing resolutions and counter-resolution, and then the MQM resignations.
In popular perception, both the PML-N and the PPP have made the police and the bureaucracy instruments of furthering crime rather than preventing it. The initial response of the police in this instance enhanced that feeling of denial of justice to the affected families rather than dispensing it. This view was reinforced when the IG Punjab Police visited the area after five days but had to beat a hasty retreat when the crowd got rowdy. Even the judiciary is being looked at with suspicion which is why anger and frustration become even more evident whenever there is a talk of appointing one or the other judicial commission.
Despite maintaining a nearly 180,000 strong police force in Punjab, the provincial government still relies heavily on judicial commissions and joint investigation teams which is unfortunate on two counts – first, it reflects a lack of governmental and public trust in police investigations, and second, the victimised party perceives it as an effort to let anger cool down and allow the accused to get off the hook.
The victims in Kasur are reported to have been between six and fourteen years of age – an age when children have a high level of emotional, social and financial dependency on adults, which makes them more vulnerable when faced with victimising environments. It is tragic that spaces and places which should have offered protection, developmental stimulation, shelter and promotion of children’s rights were precisely the places and spaces where these young souls were sexually violated.
A report titled ‘Child Abuse in India-2007’ revealed that more than 53 percent children in India have probably been sexually abused and many more have never shared this fact with anyone. There are no such statistics available for Pakistan but figures are unlikely to vary much. It is, therefore, not just Kasur but a problem spread across the country in cities and villages – and it warrants greater attention.
Psychologists are of the view that most perpetuators of such crimes have themselves been abused in their childhood and they bounce back in their adolescence to take revenge on society. If that is so, many of those abused today will end up becoming child molesters tomorrow when they grow up and this vicious cycle will go on.
The Punjab law minister has stated that the actual number of cases is much lower and has even linked this dastardly act with some land dispute. The minster’s credibility after the Model Town incident is so badly dented that it is hard to attach any importance to his statements.
He, however, needs to understand that what is new in the present incident is the unprecedented level of frustration and disappointment and the anger it evokes, coupled with a feeling of utter helplessness and hopelessness amongst a majority of the population. That said, even if there is some truth in the minister’s statement, there is no justification at all to devastate the childhoods of innocent children because of a land dispute. Also, the life of even one child destroyed in this manner is a child too many. Any attempt to downplay the incident is, therefore, highly irresponsible.
This grisly incident surfaced nearly fifteen years after that other high-profile incident in Lahore where one Javed Iqbal sexually abused 100 children of about the same age and later destroyed their remains in acid vats. The incident invoked normative assumptions inherent in our society about ‘decency and right-mindedness’ for a brief period. But our interest in bringing about stringent legislation against those who exploit children for sexual purposes waned just as our nostalgia and romance with the trope of childhood lasted for a few days.
Islam forbids any attack on the human body; this includes sexual assault on children. We wear our religion on our sleeves all the time but are poor when it comes to adherence to its teachings. In vibrant societies such excesses are investigated even after the death of a person – like in the case of Britain’s former prime minister Edward Heath (1970-74) who died in 1987 but child abuse allegations against him are being looked into these days.
Tackling child sexual abuse is not a simple issue because on the one hand, and on the part of the affected families, it is shrouded in secrecy most of the time given our social ethos. Those working in social development feel that it is extremely difficult to get responses from affected children on such a sensitive subject. On the other hand, those charged with the responsibility to expose such heinous crimes are seen to be engaged in conspiracies of silence around the entire subject.
What happened in Kasur will not be the last time we have failed our children in protecting them. The Punjab government has allocated resources for child protection but only if this money is spent judiciously will there be some discernible improvement in the situation.
Kasur is therefore a test case to understand the extent of this malaise and bring the culprits to book. The need to evolve a robust and workable mechanism where state and the civil society mutually engage in an effective manner to prevent such crimes in the future cannot be over-emphasised.
The writer is a retired vice admiral.
Email: [email protected]

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