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Opinion

August 25, 2015

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Celebrating independence

The stage was all set for a flag-hoisting ceremony at the Ganda Singh Pak-India border in district Kasur to mark our 68th Independence Day. Madam Noor Jehan’s voice was infusing the spirit of patriotism among the audience who were applauding the enthusiastic and energetic Rangers parading on the ground.
At the same time, relatives of sexually abused victims were mourning a great human tragedy just a couple of kilometres away at a small farming village, Hussain Khanwala. Visiting both venues, a couple of questions repeatedly came to mind: what do these celebrations mean for the victimised community? Who are the victims and who are the perpetrators? All come from the city of Baba Bulleh Shah and the land of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
The people of this small community are yet to recover from the shock and mental trauma they went through because of the biggest child sexual abuse case in the history of the country – involving some 400 children.
The palpable and unabated sense of shock and anger within the community is manifested in the angry mob’s throwing a shoe on the provincial police chief, Mushtaq Sukhera, when he went to the area to comfort the affectees. Initially, some government functionaries and police officials tried to suppress the issue through various pretexts but the frequent protests by the villagers brought the law-enforcement agencies into action to arrest 14 culprits of the gang. A couple more are still absconders – enjoying the backing of local influentials and politicos.
My sources on the ground say the police’s unabated raids on the victims’ homes as part of its pressurising tactics to make vocal voices stay away from the sex crime story is making the story more complicated. One can hardly understand the police’s raids on the victims’ homes while the Joint Investigations Team (JIT) is to come up with its report within two weeks.
The parents of the victims want strict action against the perpetrators. Eid

Muhammad 52, has been searching for his son, Waheed Akhtar, since he went missing in 2010 after a heated exchange with his father on missing items from home. However, Eid Muhammad realised the real story only after his son’s abuse video came to light, along with 284 more as part of the recent sex abuse case. Eid Muhammad recalls how his son used to steal money from his shop to pay to the blackmailers. Waheed’s distraught mother wants the culprits brought to justice; “They should be hanged to death and not less than that”, the depressed mother appeals to those at the helm of affairs.
Breaking the silence, the victims spoke out after the videos got public. While narrating his story one victim regrets staying silent till now. Now he wants to speak out and make any and all efforts to bring these barbarians to justice anyway.
A big well with a rope tightened to it at the abuser’s den popularly where the victims were sexually molested tells the stories of how terribly they pressurised teenaged children to come to their terms. The syringes and sedatives and other materias found at the den show that the children were often drugged before being assaulted. Ironically, the den with all this proof available for investigation has not yet been sealed.
Child sexual abuse is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan; however, this organised gang of paedophiles working right under the nose of the political administration is an eye-opener for the government and human rights watchdogs championing the cause of child protection.
Sahil, an independent organisation working on child protection issues reports that the number of child sexual abuse cases registered in 2014, which stands at a staggering 3,508, shows an upward trend with an increase of 17 percent over the last year. Following the same trend an increase of seven percent was witnessed in child abduction cases during 2014. A total of 1,831 cases of abduction were recorded in 2014 compared to 1,706 in 2013. The report says the number reflects that 10 children are abused every single day. A total of 142 victims were murdered after sexual assaults, the report adds.
After the recent incident surfaced, fear factor led to a high dropout rate at schools in the area. Many of the students abandoned school and preferred to stay at home after feeling threatened.
Social taboos, fear of being killed, tortured and harmed by the gang made these children stay mum. And we hear reports that an alleged victim of gang rape committed suicide a few days back in the Jetha Bhutta area in district Rahim Yar Khan. The victim’s father said his son could not bear the stress and humiliation and jumped in front of a train.
This great human tragedy calls for breaking the silence. The children were exploited only because they could hardly dare face their parents for what was not their fault at all.
But parents should also be held responsible for where they go wrong. Parents should know how to talk to their kids. They should know the exact wording, tone and postures when they want to convey messages on sensitive issues like this. There is need for thorough counselling on how to restore the confidence and trust of the victims.
Lack of legislation on the issue has been one of the main reasons behind the rising numbers of child sexual assaults in Pakistan. A Child Protection (Criminal Laws) Amendment Bill has been in the pipeline for the last almost 10 years but we still have to wait and see how it moves forward.
Email: [email protected]

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