Slowly but surely, Pakistan seems to be turning a corner in 2016 when it comes to advancements in human rights and civil liberties. Our legislature, too, seems to have been affected by the winds of change. First, the Women’s Protection Bill was passed by the Punjab Assembly and now in the same vein, a law has been passed against child sexual abuse. On March 11, the Senate approved a bill to amend the penal code and criminalise child trafficking within the country and for the first time, child pornography and sexual assault against a minor, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison. It should be noted that previously, child trafficking was only punishable if the traffickers had removed children from the country.
The sexual abuse of children is one of those social ills which often get swept under the rug and have, for the most part, remained out of mind since this is a crime that occurs out of sight. However, in 2015, the ostrich approach stopped working when a news story broke about a criminal ring making and distributing paedophile pornography from rural Punjab. Arrests were made in the Kasur child sexual abuse case but unfortunately at the time, the law made no mention of punishment for possession or distribution of child pornography.
The changes to legislation have been appreciated by international and local human rights groups. It has also been pointed out, and quite rightly, that while the existence of legislation is necessary, so too is a strong commitment to its implementation. Pakistan has no shortage of laws and the recent additions to protect the rights of women and children are welcome, but for there to be significant improvements, our law-enforcement agencies must take it upon themselves to fully implement these laws. One also hopes that next time the strengthening of laws will be pre-emptive and not require to be prompted by the publicising of a horrific scandal.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2016.
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