International human rights and domestic laws emphasise the protection of children from all forms of risk but the scourge of child sexual abuse (CSA), like other parts of the country, is on the rise in Hazara.
According to 2011 police records, a total of 11 CSA cases were reported from across the region, while five children were kidnapped during this period. In 2010, according to Sahil, an NGO working on the elimination of child abuse, 15 CSA cases were reported from three main Hazara districts. Sahil’s annual 2010 report suggests that Mansehra tops the crime against children ladder with eight cases of sodomy alone in 2010, followed by Abbottabad with five CSA cases and Haripur with two CSA cases registered during this period. In 2012, a total of two cases were reported from Haripur district.
Local human rights activist Tehsinullah Khan said that CSA cases are quite often silenced because perpetrators belong to the same family or within the same social circle. He added that social stigmas attached to sexual abuse are also among the reasons that deprive a victim of his/her fundamental legal rights to relief and reparation. He appeared sceptical about the safety of children studying in seminaries, adding that because the religious right holds a powerful position, CSA cases barely see the light of day.
He stressed on the need for creating awareness among parents about the Child Protection and Welfare Act (CPWA) and the exact definition of ‘child sexual abuse’, adding that “parents play a key role in checking the crime of child sexual abuse”. He said that beside reporting sodomy or rape cases, the crimes should be aggressively pursued in collusion with police and law officials to bring the perpetrator to justice. The need for child care centres for CSA survivors at the district level was also stressed.
Former High Court Bar Association General Secretary Advocate Javed Qureshi, commenting on the legal aspect of child sexual abuse, pointed out that normally in cases of sexual abuse of young boys police register a case under Section 377 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) dealing with unnatural offence. Where young girls are the victim, the FIR is registered under Section 376 of PPC – both Sections are also applicable on adults and relevant sections from the CPWA are never included. “Since police are unaware of child sexual abuse related sections of the law, personnel deputed on registering FIRs avoid these sections,” he added.
He further elaborated that under Section 53 of the CPWA, a perpetrator if found guilty could be sentenced to a minimum of seven and maximum of 14 years in jail and a fine of no less than Rs1 million. He added that cases of sodomy are usually registered under sections of the PPC not exclusively aimed at children.
According to Qureshi, Section 377 of the PPC is defined as “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to a fine”.
Advocate Sher Bahadur Khan added that the Khyber-Pakthunkhwa CPWA, enacted in September 2012, defines the term “sexual abuse” as “employing, using, forcing, persuading, inducing, enticing or coercing any child to engage in, or assisting any other person to engage in fondling, stroking, caressing, exhibitionism, voyeurism or any obscene or sexually explicit conduct or stimulation of such conduct either independently or in conjunction with other acts, with or without his consent”.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2012.