LAHORE: A shocking number of 3,445 children were sexually abused in Pakistan in 2017, according to NGO Sahil’s annual report.

The report says 2,077 girls and 1,368 boys have been survivors of sexual exploitation. Nine children were abused daily, it says.

The report has been made from monitoring 91 newspapers, local, regional and national, and the cases that have been reported.

Experts suggest that these cases may just be the tip of the iceberg as many areas are remote or people do not report cases for various reasons, including treating the subject as taboo and family relations with perpetrator.

The statistics were launched at the Lahore Press Club on Wednesday by the NGO that has been releasing the ‘Cruel Numbers’ report for the past 17 years in collated form.

According to the reported cases, 1,039 incidents of abduction took place, 467 cases were reported under rape, 366 under sodomy, 158 under gang rape, 180 under gang sodomy and 206 cases of attempted child sexual abuse were highlighted.

The report says 29 boys and 36 girls were murdered after being made victims of sexual abuse. Eight boys and as many girls were murdered after gang sodomy and rape.

As many as 517 children were found missing from their homes. Related to this were 143 cases of early child marriage and 24 of vani, says the report.

As specified in earlier news reports, most of the perpetrators knew the family or the children well and are the highest in the list. Out of the total number of cases (3,445) there are 1,421 cases where the abusers are acquainted with the child or his/her family. Strangers abusing the children were involved in 508 reported cases.

The report also reveals that most of the victims fell in the age range of 11 to 15 years. Around 961 such cases were reported. For those between the ages of 6 to 10 years, around 640 cases were reported.

For 16 to18 year old, 351 cases were reported and between one and five years there were 169 reported cases.

In 1,324 of the cases reported in newspapers, the ages of the children were not mentioned.

As far as locations were concerned, Ansar Bhatti, Regional Coordinator of Sahil said 529 children were abused in open places such as fields, streets, and forests; 448 children were abused at their own places; 410 at the acquaintance’s place; 30 children in a haveli; 26 children in madrassas; and 14 at workplaces.

The number of cases reported in Punjab was 2,168, Sindh (933), Balochistan (139), KP (78), GB (3), AJK (12) and Islamabad (112).

“Reporting cases has a lot to do with sensitisation and awareness of the people,” said Bhatti. “This may be the reason that Punjab and Sindh have higher reporting levels.” It also depends on population levels. Punjab has the highest population count.

In Lahore, there were 112 incidents reported in 2017; 29 children were abducted and 39 reported missing. Thirteen cases of rape, seven cases of sodomy, one case of gang rape, and four cases of gang sodomy were recorded in the city.

Sahil gave its recommendations for prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation. An effective awareness campaign for the protection of children is integral, it says and calls for new legislation. It also recommends a comprehensive rehabilitation and support system for victims of abuse.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2018