Death penalty doesn't stop child abuse. What's it for then?

The call to murder is the ultimate distraction. It is the most cynical act of manipulation.
Published 09 Oct, 2019 04:35pm

The bodies of three young children who were raped and killed in Kasur were discovered less than one year after the execution of Imran Ali for the rape and murder of young Zainab.

Imran Ali, despite calls for a public hanging, was executed inside the walls of Kot Lakhpat jail, Lahore. Yet, his execution was public in the sense of it being inescapable in the national conversation, as a response to an unspeakable assault on common decency and moral fabric of the society. The cries for revenge, public hanging and the execution itself did not, however, stop the perpetrator of the next round of rape and killings.

Before Imran Ali, there was Javed Iqbal, the serial killer who confessed to the murder of 100 young boys. The judge, while sentencing him to the gallows in March 2000, wrote “you will be strangled to death in front of the parents whose children you killed. Your body will then be cut into 100 pieces and put in acid, the same way you killed the children." Javed Iqbal later died in an apparent suicide while in prison.

The point in the dominant discourse for Imran Ali and Javed Iqbal was not about protecting our children from the next Imran Ali or Javed Iqbal, but about looking tough as a government and a society in the face of an elementary, unconscionable failure.

The death penalty is always about just that: demonstrating our willingness and capacity to inflict murder. The message is not directed to the future murderers and rapists (it demonstrably doesn’t work on them), but to the public at large.

Related: No, death penalty is not a solution to child sexual abuse

The relationship between an authoritarian state and the death was eloquently highlighted by Robert Badinter, French Minister of Justice under Francois Mitterrand in his September 1981 speech to the French parliament. “It is anti-justice…it is passion and fear prevailing over humanity.”

More importantly, “in countries of freedom, abolition is almost the rule; in dictatorships, capital punishment is everywhere in use. This division of the world doesn’t result from just a coincidence. It shows a correlation. The true political signification of capital punishment is that it results from the idea that State has the right to take advantage of the citizen, till the possibility to suppress the citizen’s life.”

Following the revolution in Iran, the Ziaul Haq regime began disseminating the news of executions being carried out under Ayatollah Khomeini. Archives of Pakistani newspapers following the overthrow of the Raza Shah’s regime in February 1979 have the death sentences being handed down as headline news and Khomeini doing “nashta” of “dozens” (of people).

It seemed slightly odd; yet, it was deliberately aimed at creating acceptance for state-sponsored violence and setting up the stage of the biggest execution/murder of Pakistan’s history, the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on April 5, 1979.

Also read: 'Mr President, grant mercy to my daughter who was tortured into a false murder confession'

In 1983, the murderer of Pappu, a young boy from Lahore, was publicly executed and the body of the killer was left hanging for an entire day as a spectacle. The rape and murder of children did not end in the country or even the city; however, the point had been made yet again by the Zia dictatorship that it took perverse pleasure in making a spectacle of violence. Floggings of activists and journalists become significantly more palatable when there are bodies hanging from lamp posts.

The deterrence argument for the death penalty has been widely discredited and most governments, including Pakistan, make the deterrence argument feebly and almost unwillingly, since that is not the purpose of the death penalty.

Arthur Koestler in his seminal case against the death penalty in England wrote about the time when pickpockets were publicly executed, and other pickpockets would take advantage of the crowds gathered to witness the executions to exercise their talents. In 1886, out of 167 men at the Bristol prison sentenced to public execution, 164 had witnessed at least one public execution.

The call to murder is the ultimate distraction, the most powerful rallying cry for the mob. In a society walking wounded, it is the most cynical act of manipulation. The victims, like most victims of mob attacks, are marginalised or the poor.

Read next: Pedophilia, masculinity and the media

Protecting our children requires doing the hard work of reforming the criminal justice system to make it more responsive, tackling structural and societal barriers and creating a more open society. However, hanging a Pappu or Imran Ali is much more immediate, tangible, easier and dishonest.

The news then becomes about Imran Ali, revenge and how justice has been served, rather than the fact that Zainab was abducted from Kasur where over 700 cases of child abuse have been recorded since 2015. It will for a blood-fueled moment obscure the fact that, on average, seven new cases of child sexual abuse are reported daily in Pakistan.

The argument applies to all cases of death penalty including rape, child abuse, terrorism and the everyday murder. In putting people to death, the government neither attempts deterrence nor enacts justice; it simply kills because it can.

This article is part of a collaboration with Justice Project Pakistan in the lead-up to the World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10th. To commemorate the day, JPP will be hosting an immersive live art experience at Bari Studios, Lahore from 5:30pm till 10pm.


Author Image

Saroop Ijaz is a lawyer.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (24) Closed

Oct 09, 2019 05:08pm
all sorts of crime exist in the world despite their respective punishments, should we call off all penalties?
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Nasir S.
Oct 09, 2019 05:18pm
Only action is vigilance, educating children and their parents on how to protect themselves and having a proactive police force tgat can investigate missing chikdten and collect evidence and bring the criminals to quick justice. Death penalty is fine since we don't want to be feeding these animals for the rest of their lives.
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M. Emad
Oct 09, 2019 06:12pm
Pakistan should abolish death penalty.
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Just Saying
Oct 09, 2019 06:39pm
Death Penalty will stop crime if a proper investigation took place with guilt established. Imran Ali was a poor man picked from the street and made to confess under duress in Police custody. He did not have any legal representation and his execution was rushed to indicate that all is well in Kasur. From all indications, there is an organized child pornography ring in Kasur which is making paedophilia videos and selling them and also indulging in blackmail etc. That means well off and well connected people may be involved and they may have adequate political and legal cover to escape routine investigations from the local thana. Pakistan should treat this as a national emergency and the Federal police should be involved.
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Oct 09, 2019 07:04pm
Needs heavy(billboards) advertising the death penalty for child abuse.
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Miqbal rangoonwala
Oct 09, 2019 07:41pm
@Just Saying, 100% CORRECT
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Dr Hussain
Oct 09, 2019 08:02pm
The death penalty doesn’t stop reported events but punishes the abuser and sacred away the ones who live on the fence. The hardcore abusers will continue to do so and should face the same outcome. Decreases in crime though is a bigger issue and requires systematic approach.
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Tekozer Farooqi
Oct 09, 2019 09:09pm
@M. Emad, ... Then build more jails.
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Oct 09, 2019 10:15pm
well, for starters a blanket of good quality CCTV cameras, good pay for Police Officers and a huge increase in Police presence including daily patrols of every street would make an enormous difference. Sure, it costs but the cost is something we need to bear for safety from such criminal elements.
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Oct 09, 2019 11:00pm
In Pakistani society women is looked down and disrespected in every class of society. We need to comeout of this patriarchal mentality. Which is very difficult to do because majority of kids are educated through religious schools.
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Oct 10, 2019 12:07am
Superb argument of Ahmad which merits reproduction “All sorts of crime exit in the world despite their respective punishments, should we call off all penalties? Society never been without crime; we got to live with crime and due punishment mechanism.
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Oct 10, 2019 12:37am
Death penalty doesn't exists in UK but why lately all child grooming cases in england involved same people who had similar heritage to people from Kasur? Where the problem lies ?
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Oct 10, 2019 12:54am
the whole point of the state, including the criminal justice system, is to make society become the best version of itself. Rather than viewing the criminal justice system as a means to punish members of society, the real purpose should be to help reform those who commit crime so that they once again become valuable members of society. the state should never give up on any of its citizens, regardless of how terribly they have erred. locking people up or killing them is easy with instant emotional gratification and the feeling that justice has been served, but it hasn't. And just because something feels right doesn't mean it is right. All life is precious and we must be treated it with respect, dignity and compassion.
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Oct 10, 2019 12:54am
@Just Saying, your claim is totally wrong.
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Oct 10, 2019 01:07am
But it stopped him from abusing any more children. So its a win
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Oct 10, 2019 05:23am
Donot send your children anywhere without your presence
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Oct 10, 2019 05:47am
Punishment, of any kind, is only a deterrent when the criminals believe they will be caught. Those who believe they will not get caught, do not fear punishment, no matter how severe. Just look at how many children have been raped/murdered, compared with how many have been punished for doing it. The odds significantly favour the criminals, and they know it. Their risk of punishment is far too low!
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Oct 10, 2019 08:10am
While the death penalty didn't stop this particular culprit but you can never tell how many would-be culprits it stopped. Punishment is indeed a deterrent even though you do not get a 100% crime free society. This is not to say that the society should solely rely on punishments, we should also spread vigilance, education, morality and character building.
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Khalid H. Khan
Oct 10, 2019 09:08am
@Just Saying, agreed.
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Khalid H. Khan
Oct 10, 2019 09:15am
In my view, penalties shall continue as well besides this we have to work for a welfare state, provide education, jobs, rights, basic facilities to people, finish discrimination, racism, corruption from Pakistan.
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Oct 10, 2019 09:40am
If you treat people like animals they will behave like one.
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Oct 10, 2019 10:10am
These kind of criminals are technically insane and therefore death plenty or any other harsh law might not stop them from doing that crime. But it might give some sort of relief to victim family who otherwise find themselves very agitated and victimized.
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Saif Sherazei
Oct 10, 2019 10:39am
Did you honestly believe that giving death penalty to one criminal will solve all child abuse cases? Are you seriously this naive?
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Oct 10, 2019 12:01pm
At least there is now one less child abuser.
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