ANOTHER horrific case of child sexual abuse has surfaced in the country, this time in Kot Addu in Punjab. According to police, at least 26 children were preyed upon by a gang that made videos of the victims being violated and then used them to blackmail their parents and prevent them from going to the police. It was only after the parents of one victim decided to take recourse to the law that the crime was uncovered. There are obvious similarities between this case and the one in Swat that came to light in May this year, as well as that in Kasur that sent shockwaves across the country when it was uncovered in April 2015. In the earlier instances too, the perpetrators used the threat of social humiliation by making pornographic videos of their depraved actions to ensure the victims’ silence.
After the depredations in Kasur triggered a vocal campaign by activists, politicians and media, legislation was enacted to protect children against several serious offences. The Criminal Law (Amendment Act) 2015 criminalised child pornography and the act of exposing a minor to sexually explicit material, and expanded the definition of sexual abuse. As Swat and now Kot Addu have demonstrated, while legislation is extremely important as a deterrent as well as to ensure that victims get some closure, children remain vulnerable to exploitation of the kind seen in the aforementioned cases. The biggest advantage for perpetrators is this conservative society’s reluctance — notwithstanding sporadic and reactive outcries — to address issues of sexuality with the required maturity and openness. Empty denunciations of ‘vulgarity and obscenity’ made for political profit by some quarters only drive the real problems further underground. Pemra’s recent notice to the producers of a TV serial for scenes depicting child sexual abuse is a case in point in which even a sensitive exploration of the issue raised alarm in official quarters. Aside from this, when victims pursue cases in court, the tortuously slow legal process exacerbates their trauma, leading many to drop their cases. The accused thus go free, at liberty to repeat their crimes. The argument for speedy justice could not be more persuasive than in such instances where social pressure works to the advantage of the perpetrators. Moreover, this society must come to grips with the sexual violence that exists in its midst. There is no greater shame than allowing it to fester through our silence.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2016