LAHORE: An HRCP-AGHS fact-finding mission says it has received credible testimonies indicating large-scale sexual abuse of children over many years in Husain Khanwala village of Kasur district. It is clear that a heinous crime has been committed against children.
The references made to a land dispute in the village are irrelevant and nothing can justify avoidance of impartial investigation and prosecution, says the report released here on Wednesday.
The fact-finding team agrees that the crime remained concealed largely because the victims’ families paid extortion money and they were also intimidated.
The police ignorance about the video clippings freely circulating in the area and their failure to take action lends support to charges of policemen’s collusion with the culprits, it says.
Led by Hina Jilani, HRCP Executive Council member and director of AGHS Child Rights Unit, and formerly UN Secretary-General’s Representative for Human Rights defenders, the team found the role of political parties very distributing.
HRCP-AGHS fact-finding report stresses impartial probe
The children abuse scandal surfaced after a clash between the police and protesting families in Kasur earlier this month which left two dozen protestors and 28 police injured.
The media reported existence of several hundred video clips that showed scenes of sexual abuse involving almost 300 children.
A nine-member fact-finding team visited Kasur on Aug 11, the day when the chief minister formed a joint investigation team to probe the issue, and interviewed the local police, families of the victims and local social activists assisting the complainants.
The new SHO appointed at Ganda Singhwala police station as well as the Kasur DPO declined to meet the team or receive its phone calls.
The police station moharrir told the team that police visited the village on May 26 on a tip-off that the residents were planning to hold a demonstration against sexual abuse, making videos and blackmailing of those abused.
Some notables of the village affirmed the report saying the case emerged during a panchayat regarding a dispute on a piece of state land but the police “found no clue to the video clippings”, moharrir Amin reported.
The police decided “to take an appropriate action” only if a direct complaint of such activity was received, Amin said, denying media reports that the police had received a complaint of one incident of sexual abuse against the same accused in 2013 from one Mst Bashiran, whose son was also a victim, or that the woman had been tortured by the accused in the police station.
The investigation officer of the rank of sub-inspector acknowledged that the number of objectionable clippings were in the hundreds but not the number of victims.
The team met some victims and their families, media persons gathered there and Mubeen Ghaznavi, a resident of the village who claims to be a local social activist and the spokesperson for the complainant families, and got first-hand information.
Quoting accounts of all these people the team believed that credible testimonies indicate that not only a large number of children had been sexually abused and exploited by the accused, but the ugly activities were continuing at least since 2010.
Most of these children were between 10-16 years of age when they were first abused and several hundred video clippings of the sexual activities exist. That the incidents involved several children from the same village and neighborhoods, in some cases, is sufficient to make this a heinous crime against children, it said.
Noting the police comment that it was uncertain whether the children were abused or they were the abusers, it said that owing to the age of the children their involvement in any act of this nature will be viewed as abuse and exploitation by those who were filming the act.
Referring to reports of a land dispute, it said the issue becomes irrelevant in the presence of “clear” and “convincing” evidence that a heinous crime against children has occurred.
Although some persons with ulterior motives may be using this scandal to further their interests it should in no way overshadow the urgent need to ensure an honest and impartial investigation and prosecutions against those named as accused. The team finds no need to explore the merits of the land issue in the context of the present fact-finding.
The team heard credible testimonies that the crime remained concealed largely because extortion money was paid either by the children or their families to the accused though no specific names of persons receiving this money or details of any payment could be elicited from the persons interviewed.
Intimidation of the complainant families by the accused is also borne out by the statement of several persons from the village and the repeated complaints by the victims’ families to the police.
The team was told by multiple sources that the Ganda Singhwala SHO had on one occasion filmed the complainants who had come to register their complaint against the accused and had given that video to the accused persons.
Referring to police neglect of duty and collusion, it says the wide circulation of the video clippings and rumours going around the village preceding the registration of cases could and should not have escaped the notice of the police for so many months.
The incident involving Mst Bashiran indicates both collusion of the police and the conduct of former SHO Shah Waliullah is certainly suspected, while the police who spoke to the team were visibly on their guard and unwilling to give full information on the investigation of the case and the way the abuse reports were dismissed by police in May.
The team noticed the absence of any effective investigation by the police till the time of the fact-finding visit. “No witnesses had been examined. No evidence had been collected from the reported sites of abuse. Even the objectionable videos that were circulating in the village had not been confiscated.”
The team could not collect any specific information that political influence was used to manipulate the police investigation in favour of the accused, though the behaviour of the police and public statements by some PML-N leaders casts a doubt on their commitment to ensure that justice is done to the victims. Rana Sanaullah, for instance, tried to dismiss the whole incident as a fabrication instigated by persons with a vested interest in a land dispute.
The potential for opportunistic use of the incident for political purposes did exist as the lead in determining the course to be taken by the complainants in pursuing their complaints was being charted out by other than those directly affected, it said.
The team found the role of the political parties and their leadership very disturbing as their leaders and workers made inflammatory speeches against the provincial government, paying little attention to the need for protection of the children against abuse and exploitation, better legislation or policy for child protection.
The team concluded that their main aim was to use the situation to discredit the government instead of playing any constructive role in assuring justice for the victims.
The team found none, including the parents, were concerned about physical and psychological impact of the abuse on the victims. Suggestions by team about proper medical attention and psychological counseling of the children were given no serious attention, it lamented.
There was no discussion in the village on what needed to be done to assure that such criminal activity was to an end and never repeated, while no NGO or expert in dealing with the trauma of abuse was engaged in rehabilitative programme in the village.
The team recommends that the investigation progress should be monitored with meeting the JIT after a week, and following the case till filing of the challan.
A follow-up visit should be conducted to the village to ascertain intimidation of victims and their level of satisfaction with the progress of investigation.
It also seeks cooperation of NGOs and practitioners for holding counseling and awareness sessions in the village.
Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2015