Geo Pakistan investigates: Are incidents of child sexual abuse on the rise in Pakistan?

Incidents of child sexual abuse are being reported from across Pakistan. Are the police and FIA taking this issue with seriousness?

It’s barely been three years since the story of incessant child abuse and pornography scandal from Kasur shook the country to its very core. Several children were raped, subjected to sexual abuse and all of it was filmed. On one hand, the abused children and their families, mostly from low-income households, were extorted for money while these videos were being distributed and sold. It is alleged that this vicious cycle continued for ten years.

How this went unnoticed and worse ignored for so long is a question we still do not have a proper answer for. Many of those arrested in this case received bail and some were set free due to lack of evidence.

The nation might well have forgotten about these children if earlier this year the horrifying rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab didn’t serve as a stark reminder.

We had barely welcomed 2018 when the news of Zainab being abducted, raped, and her lifeless body being dumped in a garbage heap dominated headlines and our minds. Her picture flashed across TV screens and people felt the brutality of the crime as if the adorable light-eyed girl in the bubble-gum pink jacket was their own.

The smallest development in the story was followed ardently and law enforcers spread the investigation far and wide. Talk shows, news reports, columns, trends on social media, all remained dedicated till her rapist and murderer was tracked down, arrested, convicted, and eventually hanged ten months after the story first broke.

It is pertinent to mention here that it took nearly week-long protests for the media and authorities to pick up the news of Zainab’s abduction. This was after friends and close family had reported her missing to local police several times. Even after her news made it to mainstream media it took a few days to find her body, after which another round of protests hit the streets of Kasur over police inaction to find the person responsible.

File photo show the mother of Zainab Amin, holding a photo of her daughter, sitting alongside her husband.—File photo 

It was after the news of the horrific circumstances which the little girl had to endure and then leave this world that the nation was rudely awoken to the horrors children were being subjected to.

Sadly though it seems the boys in Kasur didn’t deserve the same attention.

In September this year, 120 kilometres from Kasur in a small area of Renala Khurd, Okara District another case of sexual abuse managed some space on two national newspapers.

Details of the story, as narrated to our correspondents, tell of a young boy coming home one day in tears. His father, a poor driver in a nearby area, showed great courage and acted swiftly in reporting the incident to the police. The boy had been allegedly subjected to sexual abuse twice in the last three days, the last time being the same day. The incident according to the victim was filmed.

The police filed a report and a forensic examination was conducted which proved he was abused. The accused was arrested but it didn’t seem like the investigation was going anywhere as the police said they didn’t recover any videos from the accused’s phone. Then there was confusion on whether the accused’s forensic sample was sent for examination.

We decided to investigate the matter further and, the deeper we dug, it started to seem that this case wasn’t an anomaly in the area.

It is important to mention that such incidents are known to take place across the country, however, the highest number of cases are reported in Punjab.  

In fact, from 2010 to 2017, Sahil, an NGO dedicated to creating awareness and helping child survivors of sexual abuse, reported 961 cases from Okara. To clarify, these cases were not all directly reported to Sahil but their team monitors over 80 newspapers nationwide and collects data.

Meanwhile, 432 cases were filed under Section 377 (Unnatural Offences) in District Okara from 2010 to 2018. Of these, 198 victims were minors and an additional 40 cases of minors being raped were also reported. According to DPO Okara Athar Ismail, 45 cases were closed due to lack of evidence. 

This is the story of another teenage boy from the same area last year. He bravely shared his experience with Geo News to serve as a lesson to others and perhaps save them.

“I was on my way from school when this man offered me a ride home. He said he was going the same way but then he suddenly turned towards his house in Renala Khurd. I asked him where he was going. He replied that he quickly needed to pick something up. Once there, he offered me some water. I didn’t realise at the time that he had mixed something (drug) in it and I became unconscious. When I gained consciousness I realised he had sodomised me.”

Renala Khurd is a small area with a population of just over 70,000 people and covering a seven-kilometre radius. The number of cases should have been enough to raise alarms but it’s when we analysed data from certain parts of Punjab that a dangerous and highly disturbing trend emerged.

In 2017, Saadat Amin was arrested and convicted to seven years in prison for filming and selling pornographic material. He was caught at the airport while taking children to Norway for filming. More than 65,000 videos and pictures containing child pornography were confiscated. Sargodha is 225 kilometres from Okara.

If you refer to the map above, you can look at the identified districts in Punjab and the cases reported from there. If this isn’t enough to shake the police into action, it’s hard to understand what will.

The number of FIRs filed from these districts alone total 2,502. And these numbers reflect those families and survivors brave enough to make it to the police station and not silence themselves for fear of society, police insensitivity, and ineptitude.

District Superintendent of Police Ziaul Haq says there is no evidence to suggest a child pornography network exists in the area. The Federal Investigation Agency concurs with local authorities.

According to Director General for FIA’s Cybercrime Wing Capt (Retd) Muhammad Shoaib since the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act was enacted in 2016 the major chunk of cases reported to the department are from Interpol or other consulates and embassies. An example is the case of Sadaat Amin where the Norwegian Embassy contacted them with the information.

But a large number of reports surfacing from Punjab and now Karachi and Tarbela all of children being abused, sodomised and filmed certainly demands a more collective and comprehensive investigation than what appears to be conducted by law enforcers.

Our investigation on abuse cases in Okara was still underway when reports of young girls being trafficked for prostitution broke.

Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) officials raided two dens, reportedly brothels, and rescued two minor girls, aged 12 and three and a half. A suspect is reported to have fled the scene with a third minor girl. The rescued girls are in the custody of the CPWB.

In 2015, Pakistan topped the list for the nation of people searching for pornographic content. Okara DPO Athar Ismail says all their investigation points to perpetrators being influenced by pornographic material and, as a result, committing such vile crimes. 

With additional reporting from Mian Abid in Lahore, Waris Hyderi in Okara, Wasim Ghouri in Okara, Talha Hashimi in Karachi, Irfanullah in Faisalabad and Lahore Bureau.