Agitated over Pakistan’s biggest child sexual abuse (CSA) scandal reported from Kasur, Punjab, civil society representatives gathered in front of the National Press Club here on Monday to demand speedy justice for the victims and exemplary punishment for the perpetrators.
They demanded immediate arrest, prosecution and conviction of the accused in Kasur and other child sexual abuse cases and protection of the all-important visual, chemical and forensic evidences.
The protest was organised on the call of Child Rights Movement (CRM), a coalition of over 200 NGOs and experts working for the protection and promotion of child rights in Pakistan.
The CRM demanded that the government of Punjab should take steps to immediately arrest all perpetrators involved in the rape, sodomy, sexual abuse and production of the pornographic material of hundreds of children and police and the provincial government representatives should stop putting pressure on the traumatised children and their families regarding lodging FIRs and identification of the accused.
“Child sexual abuse and rape are extremely heinous crimes, not just against an individual, but against society and the state,” said human rights activist Samar Minallah while demanding that CSA must be declared crime against the state.
The protesters demanded the government to ensure that families of survivors are not pressurised to accept any out-of-court settlement, compensation through the police or perpetrators’ influence.
Activist and psychotherapist Dr. Ambreen Ahmed urged the government to open its eyes towards serious social issues. “This incident should not be seen in isolation. We need to build a mechanism to tackle violations of child rights. We need to pass the pending legislation and ensure implementation,” she said.
The protesters demanded of the federal government to urgently enact the long-pending National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill and the Child Protection (Criminal Laws) Amendment Bill, including maximum punishments of life-long imprisonment until death, without possibility of parole, remission or pardon for paedophilia, rape and gang-rape convicts.
They urged the government of Punjab to approve the long-awaited Punjab Child Protection Policy and enact a comprehensive child protection legislation.
They demanded of the media, government, and politicians to respect the victims and their families’ privacy and dignity, by not exploiting them in media-rating wars, or political point-scoring photo opportunities.
“Don’t try to undermine or confuse the issues. We need to face the reality and gravity of this issue instead of shying away from it or confusing it,” said Samar Minallah.
Psychologist Dr Bashir H Shah termed it a serious situation. “No one is denying the incident. They only differ on numbers,” he said. He said that no one can deny the fact that sodomy is culturally protected in most parts of the country.
Sahil, a CRM Pakistan member, in its annual report 'Cruel Numbers,' reported 3,508 child sexual abuse cases from Pakistan in year 2014 which it termed tip of the iceberg. 56 per cent of these cases have been reported from Punjab with Kasur accounting for most of the cases in the top ten districts. Sahil’s data further reveals that 445 child sexual abuse cases have been reported in district Kasur between 2012 to 2014.
“The growing number of child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan in general and the Kasur scandal in particular demands the federal and provincial governments to take effective steps for the protection of children,” said Arshad Mahmood, a child rights activist.
He pointed out that Pakistan signed Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Pornography Optional Protocol in 2001 and ratified the same in 2011 but nothing concrete had been done to protect children from these abuses.
Arshad demanded of the government to provide free, highest quality surgical, medical and post-trauma psychiatric treatment for the victims’ rehabilitation and support for their families.
The CRM Pakistan’s members expressed their strongest condemnation of this grave child rights violation, as well as of the shocking number of other child sexual abuse cases surfacing in the past couple of years from across the country. “Awareness about child rights must be part of our national agenda as they are nation’s future,” said Rabeea Hadi, co-chair of Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls (EVAW) Alliance.
The CRM announced a sustained campaign against child sexual abuse and all other violations of child rights in the country and urged the media and civil society for their support to create a Pakistan where our children are safe and protected. They also demanded establishment and strengthening of the Child Protection System in all the four provinces, Fata, AJK, GB and the Islamabad Capital Territory with active involvement of the communities to prevent growing violence against children, including child sexual abuse.