Sexual abuse of children has been an ever-rising issue yet it is largely kept in stealth. The developed countries have had their war against it, now is the time for the developing countries to wage war against this menace.
The most significant achievement against it was by The Boston Globe’s editor, Marty Boron, who assigned a team of investigative journalists to bring the culprits to justice. Powerful clerics like John Geoghan and other unfrocked pedophile priests of American Clergy were accused of sexually assaulting around 80 boys. However, in recent times, media and other pillars of the state, in developing countries like Pakistan seem to have initiated their own crusade against it.
Recent reports of spine chilling and gruesome incidents of rape and murder of children throughout the country have left the masses in dismay. Children are not safe in their educational institutes, madrassas, residential areas and even their homes.
In response to the reports of these incidents, a myriad of thoughts and emotions cross our minds. Knee jerk actions are taken. Angry social media condemnation and protests take place. But when the dust settles, the situation barely changes.
Being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, every province has enacted separate laws for the protection of children. The following measures have been taken by provinces in Pakistan:
- Punjab was the first to enact a law on the subject, titled as “The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act, 2004”, under which a child protection bureau had to be formed and the bureau had to setup child protection units in different areas to safeguard children.
- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa followed in the footsteps of Punjab by enacting a more detailed and self-sufficient law titled as “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010”. It incorporated and defined many offences and provided punishments. Child protection Courts, Child Welfare commission and other units at district level are provided for therein. It was the first to put-forth and highlight offences like sexual abuse, child pornography and sale of organs etc.
- In Sindh, “The Child protection Authority Act, 2011” was passed, establishing a child protection Authority, chaired by Social welfare Minister.
- Baluchistan like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa enacted a comprehensive law, which provides for a child protection commission.
Pressurized by civil society and media, the government has formulated yet another legal strategy in the shape of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020, which is enforced in the Capital territory of Pakistan. This act is modern compared to provincial acts and provides for a seemingly effective procedure for the recovery of missing children by using all possible measures available to the state.
After Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020 was passed by the National Assembly, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar showed his intention through a tweet to adopt the same to ensure safety of children in Punjab. Later, public hanging as a punishment was recommended by Advocate General, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Shumail Ahmad Butt in a meeting of special parliamentary committee against child abuse which was held in Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Other legislations were also proposed for protection of children and to enhance punishments for child abuse convicts.
What boggles the mind is why these offenses against children are on the rise even though we have laws which are capable of coping with every aspect of the offense?
According to a report by “Sahil”, a child rights organisation, 7 children are sexually abused in Pakistan every day. The report further mentions that 1304 children were sexually abused (cases that have been reported by the media) in Pakistan in the first 6 months of the last year.
The act of rape and murder are both covered under section 376 and 302 of Pakistan Penal Coderespectively. Both provides for punishment with death or imprisonment for life; but as evident from the rising cases neither the Penal Code of Pakistan nor the special laws made for protection of children are helping in deterring this plague. The federal government needs to deal with certain issues to ensure the safety of the children.
- The KP Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 is a comprehensive law. However, the post of child protection and welfare commission head remains vacant even though the post was advertised years ago. In addition, the commission suffers from issues like inactive helpline, inactive child protection committees, no quarterly meetings which are a legal requirement and weak case management.
- None of the provincial laws of child protection are put into action by the respective governments with commitment.
- Lack of adequate medical facilities is also an issue. There are few facilities and experts to undertake the process of postmortem of the body in sexual assault cases. The most developed medical institute in KP lacks the facility of doing DNA test. Due to the same reason mandatory DNA tests under section 164-B of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) are usually not followed. In Abdul Waheed vs Dai, (2012 YLR 2701) Karachi High Court held that offence of rape cannot be proved without corroborate medical evidence.
Recently, a resolution was passed by The National Assembly of Pakistan with a majority vote calling for public hanging for those convicted of sexual assault against children. The decision was aggressively debated upon by those in power. The signatories wrote: “This house demands that to stop these shameful and brutal killings of children and give a strong deterrent effect, the killers and rapists should not only be given death penalty by hanging but they should be hanged publicly.” Unfortunately, these speeches are merely for public consumption and no work is done on ground. Not only this resolution has no legal value but it is high on rhetoric.
Can spreading fear of exemplary punishment amongst people of this mindset be enough to curb the issue and protect our little ones? Whether education and awareness can prove fruitful? Or whether we need to keep our children at home fearing threats? But then again even homes aren’t safe because in a lot of cases family members are predators.
Pakistan Penal Code section 377 clearly defines and provides for punishment of Sexual Abuse:
“377 A: Whoever employs, uses, forces, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any person to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in fondling, stroking, caressing, exhibitionism, voyeurism or any obscene or sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct either independently or in conjunction with other acts, with or without the consent, is said to commit the offence of sexual abuse.
“377 B: Punishment. – Whoever commits the offence of sexual abuse shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to life imprisonment and liable to fine which shall not be less than five hundred thousand rupees or with both.”
However, there is no clear criteria as how offences put forth under section 377-A of Pakistan Penal Code can be proved against a criminal?
Till the time, answers to the questions are found; the government needs to focus on preventive measures: First, educate children at school level to minimize risk and increase chances of escape. Second, incorporate sections of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020 into provincial acts of child protection or adopt the law made for the capital in totality. Third, discourage child labor prevalent through the country. Fourth and the most important, implement the existing laws for child protection in letter and spirit and speed up trials of child abuse cases.
Instead of the hue and cry on media and passing resolutions in the assemblies only to win sympathy of the masses, the federal and provincial governments should fulfill their obligation to enforce laws and strengthen and train all the aforementioned agencies to successfully prosecute and convict criminals.
Till those in power show resolve to take the issue head on, we the masses must shatter our silence to protect our children. We must make the issue top priority of our government and law enforcement agencies by not letting them turn a blind eye to the rising cases. Let’s break the silence and protect our children.
Originally Published in Safety & Security Magazine, Pakistan