Justice delayed, denied

As a nation, what have we been reduced to?

Kamal Siddiqi February 26, 2018
The writer, a former editor of The Express Tribune, is director of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA, Karachi. He tweets @tribunian

An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Lahore this week acquitted 12 men in one of the 29 cases registered in the Kasur child sex abuse scandal that surfaced in 2015. Prosecutors produced 16 witnesses against the accused men, but could not prove the charges, mostly on account of poor investigative work by the local police.  The men were subsequently released due to lack of evidence.

Last year, ATC courts had acquitted 11 people that had been nominated in separate cases of the scandal, with four being released in August and seven in September. Earlier this month, an ATC had awarded life sentence to three people that were nominated in one of the cases regarding the scandal.

But if we look at the overall picture, it is this: police had registered a total of 34 cases. A joint investigation team had dismissed five cases as fake. Now, two years later, almost all those arrested have now been released.

A fact-finding committee of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that visited Kasur after the scandal surfaced questioned why the local police could not find enough evidence against the accused. The only reason seems to be that despite all the claims made by the chief minister, the local policemen received millions in bribes and did not do a proper investigation and instead misled the courts.

There is a body of material and credible testimonies indicating not only that a large number of children had been sexually abused and exploited by the accused, but also that this abuse had continued over a period of years – at least since 2010.

These children were between 10-16 years of age when the incidents of sexual abuse against them started to take place. Several hundred video clips of this crime exist.

That the incidents involved several children from the same village and from the same neighbourhoods, in some cases, is sufficient ground to call this a heinous crime.

What is truly disgusting is the fact that the local police insisted that it is not certain whether the children were abused or were willing participants.  In the village of Hussain Khanwala, videos were made of at least 280 children being sexually abused by a gang who blackmailed their parents by threatening to leak the videos and receiving money from them.

The police, who had conspicuously failed to act initially despite pleas from some parents, eventually made dozens of arrests after clashes between relatives and authorities brought the issue into the media spotlight.

In March 2016, the Senate also passed a bill that criminalised sexual assault against minors, child pornography and trafficking for the first time.

But comments by the police that the scandal may have been concocted by one party against another in the village who are contesting the ownership of a piece of public land was just a ploy by the corrupt department to confuse the case.

The issue of the land becomes irrelevant in the context of the duty of the state to investigate and to take all necessary measures to protect these children and young persons from exploitation. As things stand, testimonies from victim children and their families prove that this crime remained concealed largely because extortion money was paid either by the children or their families to the accused who in turn paid a portion to the police.

The SHO of the relevant police station had on one occasion filmed those who had come to register their complaint against the accused and had given that video to the accused persons. The SHO was eventually suspended because of complaints against him. But he is about to be reinstated now.

One can safely say that despite the hue and cry, there was no effective investigation by the police in the case. No witnesses were initially examined, no evidence was collected from the reported sites of abuse. Even the objectionable videos that were circulating in the village had not been confiscated. Some efforts were made much later but by that time the accused had covered their tracks.

But the worst part of this crime is the total disregard for the physical and psychological impact of the abuse on the victims. Both the authorities and the families have not made any effort to address the need for proper medical attention and psychological counselling.

As a nation, what have we been reduced to? We protect child abusers and disregard the abused children.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2018.

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