The safety of children

December 15, 2019

The rape and murder of a seven-year old girl in Rawalpindi by her uncle, against the backdrop of numerous unsolved cases of child abuse in recent times adds urgency to the need for proactive measures for safety and prevention

A cop manning the Gulraiz police post directed The News on Sunday to the house of the victim in the Rawalpindi rape case. The case has been taken over by the investigation branch that treats murder cases so there is little the local police can do, he notes, other than directing reporters towards the crime scene.

The victim, R was 7. Her uncle, 18, picked her on the night between November 22 and 23. He raped her, cupped her mouth with his hands so that she may not make a noise and suffocated her. In his confessional statement, he admitted to rape.

Qari Noorullah, 36, R’s father and the culprit’s elder brother, told TNS that he had raised him like his own child. “I got married in 2003. He was a toddler then. We are five siblings, he is the youngest,” says Noorullah, his voice full of grief.

“I work as a cleaner in Chaklala Market. My shift goes on till late at night. If I do not work, I cannot feed my five children – R was not the eldest of them. I used to take my brother to work with me. But for some time now, he had been shirking his duties and making a lot of excuses. I knew that he had become an addict, but I could not stop him for all the carrot-and-stick methods I used,” he said.

Asked if he was satisfied with the police investigation, he replies in the affirmative. “Police have not pestered us about anything. They are conducting the investigation in a professional manner,” he says.

“People like Noorullah work day and night to make ends meets. In this struggle, their children are left unattended and exposed to criminals,” says Superintendent of Police (SP) Hafiz Attaur Rehman. He said police don’t delay registration of child abuse complaints and pursue these cases carefully. He says that there is an urgent need to strengthen the cooperation between the police and the public to prevent such crimes.

“This Friday (December 6), police facilitated delivery of sermons aiming to sensitise public about child abuse and child protection in different ways in all the four districts of Rawalpindi division. Look at Twitter and other social media networks and you will find that this action has generated debate. Mainstream journalists know their job better. I cannot tell them what to do,” says Rawalpindi Regional Police Officer (RPO) Dr Tajik Sohail Khan.

Dr Khan has served the UN in four continents. “I don’t just believe but I know for a fact that together we can turn our society around. Look at the example of Rwanda. It had seen the worst of sexual abuse cases and genocide. I am a witness to how it has now turned around by investing in education of the younger generation,” he says.

Dr Khan has developed a plan – a ‘7P formula’ to prevent child abuse in a proactive manner. The Ps stand for political will; press and publicity; parent awareness; police capacity; pulpit; poverty and pornography.

“Almost everyone involved in child abuse has been found addicted to pornography. We need to take it seriously,” he says.

Noorullah says his brother, the rapist, had been addicted to porn movies too.

“The type of movies he used to watch poisoned his mind. This evil has hit our youth in a big way,” he says.

Days before this tragedy, Sohail Ayaz, a consultant with the Planning Commission engaged with a World Bank project, was caught on suspicion of child abuse. Upon investigation, it was revealed that he was the ringleader of a child pornography network. He has so far confessed to abusing over 30 children. More children from Rawalpindi have been coming up to record their statements with police.

In August, a couple was arrested in Rawalpindi for their role in production of pornography after a complaint was filed by a female student from a public university, who was their latest victim. They confessed in court to having been engaged in this crime for a long time.

It, however, will not be fair if we generalise these incidents to define Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The problem is much broader.

“If you look at the ethos of this region, you will find that for a long time women were not considered equal to men. This ended after World War II,” says Islamabad IGP Aamir Zulfiqar.

Unfortunately child sexual abuse it has become a lucrative business. Cases of poor people are reported more often, but the problem also exists in upper and middle classes,” he says.

In the upper strata of society, when such cases take place it is due to the fact that parents are busy and do not prioritise their children, he says.

For the poor, on the other hand, a child has become an economic unit, he adds. People often make their children take up odd jobs to earn money at the cost of their modesty and virtue.

“We have come down hard on child abuse and pornography in Islamabad but let’s admit that they are still being downloaded from about 350 points. We will track them all,” he says.

He notes that this year 65 cases of missing children were reported involving 74 children.

“We have recovered 69 children and will soon recover the remaining 5. And keep in mind that all crimes about children are not of a sexual nature. But some people create false impressions and catalogue these cases as child sex cases in their reports, which is not a good thing. The number of [reported] child sexual abuse cases is very low in Pakistan compared to other countries.”

For Qari Noorullah, reality is starkly different. “I will never forgive the killer. I want to see him hanged. My daughter was innocent and very dear to me,” he says, when asked if he will forgive his brother in court. Noorullah took care to move away from his sister and other relatives while making this statement.

He says the government has not released any compensation for him. He says his debts have risen to Rs 150,000. He appeals to the government and other institutions to extend financial help to him so that his life can get back to normal.

His children and he no longer sleep in the house in which R was raped and killed. R’s traumatised siblings say they hear horrible noises at night.

The green iron gate of the house where this happened was locked when TNS visited the venue. The cop manning Gulraiz post was right. Everyone at the roundabout nearby knew directions to the house where a youth had raped and killed his child niece, but no one knew that the family did not live there any longer.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat

Rise in rape cases in Pakistan and the safety of children