Islamabad: There is a gradual yet seething rise in the cases of abusing children in Pakistan due to inadequate legal and administrative measures by the respective governments.

In a latest report, presented in National Assembly of the country, a government minister admitted to the increase in ratio of child abuse and sexual exploitation.

State Minister for Human Rights Mumtaz Ahmad Tarar, while presenting the data, said in the year 2017, from January to June, there have been 1762 reported cases of child abuse out of which 1,089 happened in Punjab, the largest populated province. While, 490 were reported in Sindh, 42 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 76 in Baluchistan, 56 in Islamabad capital Territory and nine in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. This data, he stated, is collected through police department(s) in collaboration with a Non Government Organization Sahil.

The minister presented the report against a question by a member of the assembly about the child abuse rate/ratio in the country at present along with the province-wise details thereof; and the administrative and legal steps taken by the government to control child abuse in the country.

Earlier, the NGO reports have indicated a 10 per cent increase in reported child abuse cases in Pakistan last year (2016) as compared to 2015. A total of 4,139 cases were registered in 2016, an increase from 3,768 in 2015, another report by Sahil, in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan, stated. Among the abuse cases, 2,410 victims are girls and 1,729 victims are boys, the report highlighted. And nearly 50 per cent of these victims are between the ages of six and 15.

In Pakistan, around 40pc of the population is under the age of 18 but there is a dearth of legal measures to protect the young. Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) since 1990 but no adequate legal and administrative measures have been put in place to protect minors from sexual abuse. A lack of serious efforts to prosecute child abuse offenders fail to set examples for future crime.

“We can say that at least 11 children are abused in Pakistan every day. At least 40 million children in Pakistan live below the poverty line, who need protection for their healthy upbringing without such abuses,” Ejaz Ahmed Qureshi, an official of the National Commissioner for Children said.

Recently, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior passed a bill, increasing the punishment for involvement in child molestation and pornography from 14 to 20 years in prison. The bill’s mover, MNA Mussarat Ahmad Zeb, said that the current punishment for child pornography is imprisonment for only two to seven years. “There should be imprisonment of at least 14 years to a maximum of 20 years and a fine for the culprit. We need to make this punishment harsh because children are our future and we need to take all possible measure to save their lives and make them a healthy generation,” she told News Lens Pakistan.

FIR of Kasur Child Abuse case: Photo by News lens Pakistan

The enhancement in the punishment for child pornography came under serious debate and consideration after 2015, when in a village in Kasur, a city close to Punjab province’s capital, a case of abusing many children for years came in the limelight. After the incident, the National Assembly passed a law that made this crime punishable with two to seven years’ imprisonment. But the incidents continued to happen even after that because of poor law implementation and less punishment. A few months following the Kasur case, a similar case of abusing many children surfaced in Swat, KP.

The state minister, talking to News Lens Pakistan, said after 18th Constitutional Amendment, the subject of minors/ children has been transferred to the provinces. Mumtaz said among the measures to stop this menace the government has brought Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 2016, which covers all aspects of child abuse. While, he said, government has also drafted the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Child Protection Bill, 2017. “The new draft provides protection and care to children in the ICT from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, neglect, maltreatment, exploitation and abuse. The Bill has been approved by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights and its report will be presented to the National Assembly soon,” Mumtaz disclosed.

The government has also passed the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Act, 2017. The act provides for undertaking periodical review of existing policies and programmes on child rights internationally and makes recommendations for their effective implementation in the best interest of children in a collaborative effort. He said the National Child Protection Centre is working for the protection of children at risk, their rehabilitation, and reintegration especially the victims of child abuse.

The Government of Punjab under the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau has established nine (9) Child Protection Units which provide protection and welfare services to the victims of child abuse. The services are also being extended in other districts. The Government of Sindh under the Child Protection Authority Act 2011 has established twelve (12) child protection centers/units which provide protection and welfare services to the victims of child abuse. The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under the Child Protection and Welfare Commission has established thirteen (13) Child Protection Units which provide protection and welfare services to the victims of child abuse. The Baluchistan Child Protection Act 2016 has been enacted. The said Act provides the protection of children in Baluchistan from all forms of violence and physical abuse. Under this Act, Child Protection Commission is being established.

A few weeks ago, Sardar Abdul Khetiran, a member of Baluchistan assembly representing a religio-political party of the ruling coalition, while speaking on the floor of the house, feared that a vast majority of juvenile prisoners in the jails of the province (more than 90 percent) are victims of drug-abuse and sexual exploitation. He was responding to the question of delays in implementing provincial child protection law. The member stated that a major reason for these incidents is the lack of separate prisons for juveniles in the province and a mechanism to monitor the jails. “Though we try to separate them in barracks but due to mismanagement of jail authorities and lack of monitoring such things, elders, reportedly, often end up sexually harassing minors,” he added.

It is largely believed that cases of child abuse and sexual exploitation are highly under reported in Pakistan because of taboo. People avoid lodging such complaints for the security and social safety of their children in a society like Pakistan where implementation is weak. Moreover, poor prosecution and weak administrative role of the government machinery and law enforcement agencies in the country further discourage the complaints in the reported cases.

A public online survey being conducted on the website of the NGO Sahil, has also asked people if they ever suffered any of this kind of sexual abuse including voyeurism (looking at someone’s body), sexual comments, exhibitionism (Forced to show your body to someone), pornography, unwanted kissing/touching, fondling body parts, oral sex and rape/sodomy. The answer of nearly 80 percent responses is yes.

“Culture of separation/segregation and changing family structures are basic reason for this increase in child abuse in our society. Due to this people lack proper forums for ventilation and children are going further in isolation where they live in virtual world now,” Abdulwaheed Chaudhry, a senior teacher of anthropology in a university in Islamabad said. “Over the period of time, family structure has isolated our children. They cannot share things much. Moreover, the space has further shrunk because of Internet. They have more virtual space where while even sitting with us, we cannot determine what they are doing or looking for amid loads of information and rosy pictures,” he said, adding, “Virtual space is even more dangerous in this isolation.” Abdulwaheed observed that in the joint family structure and non-segregated environment such abuses have less frequency. Moreover, a serious and vigilant parenting role is required too. He said we have to understand as close we are with our children our open communication brings mutual benefits.

“We have to admit to the realities and these evils. And for a solution, we need more social attention than legal. What we need is acceptance of this issue; awareness about it; and social remedies of child abuse. At the moment, Pakistani society is passing through the first phase of acceptance,” Abdulwaheed concluded, while urging the need for a strong role of civil society, which according to him does not mean only NGOs but also parents and teachers.

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