Citizens protest against rape and murder of two children in Peshawar
seven-year-old girl was found dead in the busy Saddar Bazaar in Peshawar just before Eid ul Azha.
The revelation triggered concern in the neighbourhood as it was the second incident of the kind in less than two weeks in which young girls were assaulted and killed not very far from each other.
Police said the father of the girl had told them that she had left home to buy naans from a tandoor in Saddar, but never returned. The family looked for her in the vicinity. Later, the locals found her body near a mosque, opposite a temple in the Kali Bari area.
A few days before the Saddar Bazaar murder, an 11-year-old girl had been killed in the Railway Quarters. The body bore several wounds. The neighbours had later blocked the road and demanded early arrest of the culprits. On July 10, another minor girl was raped in Gulberg area.
Raising the issue in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, MPA Nighat Orakzai said: “Atrocious incidents are happening in the very heart of Peshawar. Young girls are being killed right under our noses.”
According to investigators 146 people were interrogated and DNA samples were collected from 49 suspects. Finally, on July 28, police announced they had arrested a suspect.
“The CCTV footage and other pieces of evidence were being collected while geo-fencing was conducted to probe the incident from all angles that led to the arrest of the accused. His DNA has matched in the three cases,” police said.
Why are Peshawar’s children being subjected to such cruelty? A simple answer is that they are children, the most vulnerable segment of the society. The children cannot put up strong resistance and the criminals probably find getting away with abuse and killing of children easier than with adults. The children also lack powerful unions to raise a voice against exploitation.
Unfortunately, those facing oppression constitute a majority, not a minority. Oppression and victimization of women and children is nothing new.
Incidents of sexual assault are being reported in larger numbers across Pakistan. It is still believed that many more incidents go unreported. There are many reasons for this. One of the reasons is that the matter is dismissed as a minor issue. Also, most children are afraid to report the crime out of fear. In many cases families of the victims consider reporting child abuse as shameful. An important factor in the prevalence of the crime is the engagement of jirga or panchayat to silence the victim. Quite often nobody even asks the child. The parents deal with the matter with the advice of the elders in the community.
According to the 2021 data, 3,852 cases of child abuse were reported in the country. On an average day thus, more than 10 children suffered the abuse. The numbers are 21 percent higher than those reported in 2020. 92 of the children were killed after they were raped. Sexual violence against girls rose in particular.
How do the children become a target? In urban areas, children are often sent outside to play, because of the shortage of space in their homes. After travelling and reporting several cases of child abuse across the country, this scribe found that the Punjab has the highest reported incidence of child abuse. The class system is a factor in the prevalence of the crime.
In February 2017, a child in Kasur was murdered after being raped. The police arrested a man in the neighbourhood, tortured him and extorted a confession. The victim’s father later told this scribe that the police took him to see the accused who apologised “for what he had done”. The next day, the accused was killed in a police encounter. The police claimed that they had taken him to the crime scene to establish certain facts when there was an attempt to help him escape. A year later, when another child was raped and murdered in the area, the rapist was caught and
DNA evidence showed that had been the culprit in both cases.
It is feared that the case was not unique and that there may have been dozens of such cases.
Poor investigation is a problem in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well. One of the problems in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is that the police routinely appoint their most competent officers in the operations wing. Not much attention is paid to the selection and deployment of officers in the investigation wing. As a result, when the challans are presented in the courts, many of the accused are acquitted on account of poor investigation. The two recent incidents in Peshawar have occurred in an area of the city that is considered one of the most secure.
Sahil, an organisation working for child rights, publishes yearly reports, titled Cruel Numbers, about the incidents of violence against children. According to the 2021 data, 3,852 cases of child abuse were reported in the country. On an average day thus more than 10 children suffered abuse. These numbers are 21 percent higher than in 2020. 92 of the children were killed after being raped. The report shows an increase in violence against girls in particular (2,068 reported cases). A total of 2,275 children were subjected to sexual abuse across the country. This included children as young as five years old.
The statistics suggest that most of the incidents take place at the house of the abusers. 447 incidents were reported to have taken place at the place of the children - their house, neighborhood, etc. The data also revealed that most of the child abuse cases involved acquaintances rather than strangers. In 2021, there were 1,715 cases in which acquaintances of the children were involved in child abuse or violence. There were 2,464 cases in the Punjab; 885 in Sindh; 247 in Islamabad, 195 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 47 in Balochistan; and 13 in Azad Kashmir. Only one report was received from Gilgit-Baltistan. After reviewing the statistics, it was found that 57 percent of the incidents occurred in rural areas and 43 percent in cities.
Reports in the media have resulted in many children living in constant fear.
Children should be informed but not scared. Awareness campaigns should also be conducted in villages and small towns. Schools should teach self-protection methods to the children. Counselling and support facilities should be established for children who have suffered trauma. A separate desk should be set up at police stations for registering complaints about children. Special programmes should be set up for awareness raising by researching the trends.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer on terrorism, conflict and peace development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org