Our ‘hidden’ shame

Published November 15, 2019

THE recent arrest of a known paedophile, Sohail Ayaz, has raised serious questions about the government’s handling of child sexual abuse cases.

Ayaz had previously been convicted and sentenced to prison in the UK for child sexual offences, and then, reportedly, deported by Italy for his links to a child pornography ring. Unfortunately, this was not flagged by the authorities here, and he was able to secure a working contract with a KP government department under a foreign-funded project.

If it hadn’t been for the mother of his latest alleged victim, there would have been no stopping his sickening activities. She approached the police in Rawalpindi when her son disappeared for four days. Police said that Ayaz has admitted to raping at least 30 children in Pakistan alone.

The incident reflects the extent of the unspoken social embargo on the subject of child sexual abuse in the country. As many as 1,300 cases of child sexual abuse have been recorded only in the first six months of this year, according to the NGO Sahil. Yet, the reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg as countless parents shy away from registering police cases.

It is astonishing that Ayaz was caught after allegedly raping 30 children; had none of the parents of the victims come forward to report the crime to the authorities and demand stern action? This also shows the parents’ lack of trust in the law-enforcement authorities that have a track record of victim shaming and mishandling cases of this nature.

Who can forget the comment of a police officer in Shahzad Town, Islamabad, who told the family of a missing 10-year-old girl in May that she might have eloped? When the police did spring into action later, after widespread condemnation, it was discovered that the suspect had been booked in two similar cases.

Meanwhile, the Chunian case suspect was found to have been nearly arrested twice before. Then there was the notorious serial rapist and killer Imran Ali in Kasur city, who was caught only after protests erupted when the body of little Zainab was found in a garbage dump. Four years after the child pornography ring was busted, the victims — almost 300 victims — from Hussain Khanwala village in Kasur district still await justice.

We as a society continue to fail our children. We will keep doing so until we open up and acknowledge the depth of the malaise within.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2019

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