Reporting by Mohammad Akbar Notezai
A nightmare of pervasive sexual abuse and exploitation of minor boys goes unnoticed in the provincial capital.
13-year-old Nazeer* has been frequenting Quetta’s Liaquat Bazaar, famous for stocking mobile phones, clothes and locally made ornaments. The teenager, whose family settled in the city after fleeing Afghanistan, is nonchalant about the daily horror he endures: "I have sex with men for money. And this bazaar has many clients".
He has already met with a 'client' earlier today. The man was a local shopkeeper who took the boy to a hotel and carried out the act for Rs150 (US $1.3). Nazeer says he had to haggle with the man to get the price above Rs100 ($1).
The teenager was first abused when he was nine by a neighbour who lived along the city’s seven-kilometre Sabzal Road.
“He said he would pay me. I desperately needed the money. He raped me, but I was not paid a penny. I did not even understand what had been done to me at that time,” Nazeer shares.
“My family has no knowledge of any of this... They think I work in the bazaar”.
Nazeer's case is not unique. Poverty stricken minors roam the garrison city enduring horrors at the hands of sexual predators who act with complete impunity. The abuse often transpires in workshops or seedy hotels available at low hourly rates. Quetta’s Sattar Road, for instance, is dotted with such establishments, some of which are well known to be involved in child prostitution.
With no fear of being caught, the perpetrators who walk along these streets speak openly about their exploits.
One man, who shares that he works at the Pakistan-Iran border near Taftan, frequents the city’s shabby 'Four Seasons Hotel' once every two months.
"A room at the establishment rents out at Rs1,000 per night to regulars. Another Rs1,000 guarantee “special service”, he says.
Now nearing 30 and married with two children, he says he has been coercing young boys into sex since his school days. He terms his continuous cycle of abuse, "A habit".
An aged tailor in Liaquat Bazaar, has a similar story to narrate. Hunched over his sewing machine, the family man with children of his own shows no remorse as he admits to sexually abusing boys. "I still do it," he says, "Boys who do not have money. They are willing in exchange for cash... they have to comply. And I can take them anywhere without fear. No one will question me.”
As he returns to his work, he shares that he was raped at the age of 14. He claims it was this trauma that drove him to sexually abuse boys “as revenge” for what was done to him.
Another perpetrator says he rapes children to 'shame them'.
"It is a fitting lesson... If these boys become doctors, engineers, functionaries and not even glance at people like me, I want them to remember what I did."
Sheer desperation and poverty drove Yousaf* into the trade.
Hailing from Balochistan’s Chaman district, he says there was no money to be had at home. It was then that he was made his first offer.
“A few years back, I went to a wedding in another town. It was there that I befriended two men. During my stay, they gifted me Rs2,000 for just spending some time with them. But the following day, they blackmailed me into having sex for having taken the money,” he says.
From there, the ordeal spun out of his control. "They continued blackmailing me. One by one, their friends abused me. This is how it went on for some time. I could not do anything.”
“Had I not taken their money, I would not have had to face that,” he says. "But Rs2,000 seemed like a princely sum at the time. I willingly took the money without realising what they would want in return.”
The impunity with which predators operate leads to abuse beyond the poorest of the poor as well. And sometimes it is a coordinated effort that is part of the racket.
Basit*, a resident of Sariab Road, says he was gang-raped by four men when he was 16. The teenager was on his way to school when he was kidnapped at gunpoint. He was brought to Killi, a Quetta suburb, where he was raped and the ordeal photographed.
Left alone for a period, Basit heard the men discussing a plan to use the photographs to blackmail his father for Rs200,000. These men were not just rapists interested in pleasure; they were a gang profiting from sexual abuse.
They were deliberating among themselves in another room when Basit fled from the spot by scaling a wall. Shots were fired as he escaped, but the teenager reached home safely. A case was registered, but it remains pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Even registering a case is a hard task.
Lawyers approached for a comment on child sex abuse cases point out that complaints are rarely filed, with most cases being settled out of court by tribal elders.
A quick search through court records yields only 12 cases of “unnatural offences”. According to one lawyer, many cases find no takers as established lawyers avoid rape cases due to low remuneration. Some refuse such cases because they believe it brings their profession into disrepute. As a result, the cases are almost exclusively handled by junior lawyers. But it isn't just the legal system that is failing abused children.
Most complaints don't make it past the police station.
Rights activist Abdul Sattar points out that the process of reporting such incidents is cumbersome due to weak, overburdened or or non-existent systems at police stations and health facilities.
“Cases are not reported unless a child has been grievously injured,” Sattar says, adding that another major impediment is the time frame in which a victim is required to undergo a medical examination – if it is not conducted within 24 hours of the abuse, the occurrence cannot be corroborated. Similarly, he adds, the first 48 hours are critical when it comes to collecting evidence e.g. clothes bearing traces of semen. But a majority of cases are reported two to three days after the abuse occurs, resulting in failure to corroborate rape charges.
According to Sattar, it becomes almost impossible to register a complaint within the time frame as there are too few medical officers tasked with formulating reports on rape cases. “There are (only) two or three such officers in Quetta. Timely availability of their services across Balochistan is impossible. Consequently, most reported cases of child sex abuse stand uncorroborated.”
With no consequences to committing the crime, and a system that works against them, boys like Nazeer and Yousaf are forced to internalise sexual abuse as a part of everyday reality.
They continue their daily walk down Quetta's streets.
Name of minors changed to protect identity
GIFs and illustrations by Zahra Abdus Samad