- Every day ten children are abused. That is the number of reported cases as per the NGO Sahil.
- It is not just Kasur but the whole of Pakistan where children are unsafe.
There is nothing worse than the death of a child. There is nothing worse than a parent burying a child.
There is nothing worse than inflicting violence on a child.
There is nothing worse than sexual abuse of a child.
There is nothing worse than the rape of a child.
There is nothing worse than the rape of a child and then killing that child.
After raping and killing the child, the body is thrown on a heap of garbage. That is what happened in the case of the seven-year-old Zainab. After raping and killing the child, the body is buried in a field. Sometimes, wild animals dig up the freshly buried body. Sometimes, it is a farmer whose shovel strikes a decaying skeleton as he works in a field. Sometimes, it is a daily wage earner who finds in a deserted industrial site the body and skeletal remains of not one, not two, but three children.
That is how Pakistan learned that there were children missing again in Kasur, this time in its tehsil Chunian, children from poor families whose disappearance would have remained a back-page story if they had not been found as dead bodies – tortured, raped and killed.
I do not have words to express the enormity of what I feel when I read about the rape and murder of a child. No human being with even an iota of humanity is able to even begin to comprehend a crime that defies all fathomable dark twists of the mind that unleashes cruelty on a being weaker than him. Sexually attacking a child is neither falling prey to uncontrollable lust nor is it to satisfy an overpowering sexual urge. Killing a child is neither an act of power nor a submission to a maniacal homicidal tendency. What it is, it is beyond the limits of my mind as a human being, as a woman and as a mother.
The only thing that I understand is that the rape and murder of even one child should have jolted Pakistan out of its collective apathy to ensure that never again a child is kidnapped, tortured, raped, killed and buried in a deserted industrial site.
But it has happened again and again. And it happens all over Pakistan.
Many cases go unreported. There are parents who never find out what happened to their child. The number of parents who report and wait for their missing child to come home is so high in a country with a weak legal system and an ever weaker conscience that it is a miracle why Pakistan has not collapsed inwardly because of the wails of those parents. Abuse of children is rampant, and so is the certainty that nothing will happen to their abusers.
Every day ten children are abused. That is the number of reported cases as per the NGO Sahil. In 2017, Sahil reported that there were 3,445 cases of reported child abuse. In 2018, the number of cases–reported, I emphasise–increased to 3,832. That is 387 more abused children. Try to imagine. It is three thousand eight hundred and thirty-two children, more than the number of children in any big school. All over Pakistan, this was the number of cases that made it to a newspaper. No one will ever know the exact number of children who were sexually abused. By someone in the family, a family friend, a relative, a teacher, a social acquaintance, a complete stranger.
What the law says
Laws exist. Punishments are given. The rapist and killer of the seven-year-old Zainab was found, tried in a court, sentenced, and executed. Imran Ali became the face of the darkest side of a society where the most inhuman acts take place but not much changes.
The laws exist–the Zina Ordinance, 1979; the Punjab Suppression of Prostitution Ordinance, 1961; the Sindh Children Act, 1955; the Punjab Children Ordinance, 1983.
According to Barrister Ahmad Pansota of the Lahore High Court: “Recent amendments in Sections 164(A) and 164(B), inserted into the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2016, enable authorities to obtain and use DNA evidence. Section 161(A) also guarantees a rape victim the right to legal representation.”
Pansota also states: “The first amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code in relation to child abuse in 2016 criminalised sexual assault against minors, child pornography and trafficking. Sexual assault is now punishable by up to seven years in prison (previously, only rape was criminalised), and child pornography (previously not included in the law) is punishable by seven years in prison and a fine of Rs 700,000.”
Yet children are abused. Children go missing. Children are abducted. Children are killed. And dead bodies of those children are thrown on a garbage heap or buried in shallow graves.
It is not just Kasur but the whole of Pakistan where children are unsafe. But it was Kasur where in 2015 a ring of child pornography was uncovered. In the village of Hussain Khanwala of Kasur, the mind-numbing story of more than 200 children who were sexually abused and filmed shook Pakistan–for a few days. Sahil reported that more than 285 cases of child sexual abuse were recorded. The nation-wide outrage resulted in bringing the focus to Kasur. Arrests were made of men in their 20s and 30s, members of child pornography ring ‘patronised’ by a member of parliament, Malik Saeed, of the then ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
The outrage shifted to some other issue after a brief expression of ‘enough’ and ‘never again’.
In 2017, 129 children were reported to be sexually abused. In 2018, Kasur was in news again. This time it was a serial rapist and murderer. 12 little girls were raped and killed, including the little Zainab.
Imran Ali was executed. What did it change? Children are still kidnapped, raped and killed in Kasur. Have there been any real efforts to understand why Kasur has produced a series of child abusers, rapists and killers? Have any scientific and psychological studies been conducted to understand the mindset of the culprits in custody to make a framework for future deterrence of the same crime? Have all the abused children received not a one-time but a proper, continuous, long-term post-traumatic therapy?
Have there been any government-funded programmes for community awareness of prevention of sexual crimes against children? Are there any programmes in schools for a systematic inculcation of knowledge of steps to take to sensitise children about sexual acts, even among themselves, done to a child, even when deemed ‘harmless’? Has the authorities made an effective effort for education of parents on how to communicate with their children, what to teach their children, and how to ensure that their children inform them immediately when in any kind of a problem or if there is an inappropriate touch?
Will anyone in a position of power tell me if any of these things had been done?
Prime Minister Imran Khan has tweeted on the Kasur killings: “There will be accountability for all. Those who do not perform in the interest of the common man will be taken to task. Following actions have so far been taken by the Punjab police & the provincial govt: 1) DPO Kasur being removed. 2) SP investigation Kasur surrendered, charge sheeted and being proceeded against. 3) DSP and SHO suspended. 4) Major overhaul in Kasur local police on the cards. 5) Formal probe ordered under Addl IG.”
Is that enough? No.
Read more from Mehr Tarar
- When will the violence against Hajra, Sonia, Azma stop in Pakistan?
- Lynching in Pakistan: His time never came. He was killed. His name was Rehan. He was 15.
- Sahiwal: Pakistan owes its children justice, may their tears never be watched on video
- The horror of child servants in Pakistan: Uzma was battered to death for taking one bite of food
The poor pay a price
Sleepless before Fajr, as I think about the recovered body and skeletal remains of those three children whose names I don’t know, I feel a dark, very deep sadness. Five children went missing, three have been found raped, killed and buried. The ages of two are twelve and eight. Which two, I couldn’t verify from any media report. There is one common link between these five boys, three raped and killed, the 12 raped and killed girl-children of 2017, the 200 sexually abused and filmed children of 2015, and the 3,842 children whose news of abuse made it to little-read sections of newspapers: all of them belong to the under-privileged section of society. The poor of Pakistan.
It is the poor who exist as an invisible nobody and die as an inconsequential no one. It is the poor whose children starve. It is the poor whose children die of dog-bites. It is the poor whose children work as domestic staff and are tortured to death. It is the poor whose children are tied to cages and lynched. It is the poor whose children go missing and no one gives a damn. It is the poor whose children are kidnapped, raped and killed. It is the poor the mutilated bodies of whose children are thrown in sewers, dumpsters, and buried in shallow graves.
I can’t imagine abuse of any child. I can’t think of death of any child. Human depravity knows no rules, it recognises no conventional markers of behaviour. It can strike anyone, anywhere, any time. Children are harmed in every country of the world. There is no rulebook that keeps children happy and safe and just children.
But there is one recurring thought in my tired mind: what would have happened if any of this had happened, God forbid, to a child of a tycoon, a powerful politician, a military official, a famous celebrity, a connected bureaucrat? Would things have changed? Would the outrage have continued much longer? Would police investigations be quicker, legal verdicts airtight, punishments stricter? Would awareness, prevention and deterrence programmes have been made mandatory? Would there have been real justice instead of short-lived hashtags and primitive, reactive cries for public punishments?
Would Pakistan have been made a safer place for its children?
Will I ever get an answer?