Only officials of ASP rank and above can investigate child sexual abuse cases, IHC rules

Updated November 21, 2019

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The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has set guidelines for the investigation of child sexual abuse cases and made it mandatory for such offences to be investigated by police officers of assistant superintendent of police (ASP) rank and above. — AFP/File
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has set guidelines for the investigation of child sexual abuse cases and made it mandatory for such offences to be investigated by police officers of assistant superintendent of police (ASP) rank and above. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has set guidelines for the investigation of child sexual abuse cases and made it mandatory for such offences to be investigated by police officers of assistant superintendent of police (ASP) rank and above.

While dismissing a petition seeking bail in a child sexual abuse case on Wednesday, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah criticised the police investigation and directed for the standards of such investigations to be improved.

The petitioner, Mohammad Zeeshan, had sought post-arrest bail in a case registered on Aug 20 under sections 377 and 511 of the Pakistan Penal Code with the Bhara Kahu police.

According to the details of the case, the child of the complainant was allegedly sexually abused by the petitioner at a seminary. The counsel for the petitioner claimed that he was involved in the case with mala fide intentions and the complainant had ulterior motives.

Court sets guidelines after finding that police did not probe child abuse properly

The charge sheet the police submitted to the trial court said that charges were framed against the petitioner but the investigation did not find incriminating material despite the petitioner being on physical remand.

The police said no private witnesses of the occurrence were associated during the proceedings, and that the allegations in the FIR were false, fictitious and concocted. The petitioner was incarcerated for nearly three months, did not have a previous criminal record or conviction and was deemed innocent of the alleged offences.

State counsel appeared in court along with Investigating Officer Tanveer Hussain on Wednesday. Mr Hussain was asked about the investigation he conducted and the role of the administrator of the seminary, whose protection the victim had been under.

Mr Hussain told the court his investigation was limited to recording the complainant’s statements.

The court observed that the investigating officer could not produce any material to show that the complaint, which is of a serious nature and involves a child victim of sexual abuse, has been investigated properly.

The court said that it appeared the investigating officer had proceeded with the case in a casual manner without investigating it.

The superintendent of police (investigations) was directed to appear in court on Nov 19 and did not comply with the directions, after which the matter was fixed for the appearance of the inspector general of police Islamabad.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations) Waqaruddin Syed appeared in court on Wednesday, when the petition was taken up. He acknowledged that the case was not investigated properly and said the investigation has been transferred to another officer.

He added that the investigation conducted by the new officer has prima facie revealed the role of the seminar’s administrator, who has been arrested.

The court order stated that in view of the number of reported incidents of child sexual abuse in the recent past, the executive authorities are expected to exercise extraordinary case whenever a complaint of this nature is received.

The order said the manner in which the case was dealt with showed obvious apathy on the part of the executive public functionaries and an attitude of indifference towards a serious malaise prevalent in society.

Expressing displeasure regarding the investigation, the court noted: “Due to poor quality of investigations and lapses on part of the prosecution, persons involved in heinous criminal acts go unpunished…children require extraordinary care and protection, particularly when incidents involving sexual abuse and molestation are reported frequently.”

Justice Minallah observed: “It is the duty of the state through its executive functionaries to ensure that rights of children are not only safeguarded but persons who harm them are prosecuted in a manner that there is no likelihood of avoiding exemplary punishment.”

“Crimes against children cannot be left to be dealt with by incompetent, unwilling and unprofessional investigators,” the court order stated, adding: “Keeping in view the nature of offence of child sexual abuse and the state of affairs relating to the quality of investigations in Islamabad Capital Territory, it is directed that in a case involving alleged sexual abuse of a child, the investigations will be promptly entrusted to an official who is not lower in rank than an assistant superintendent of police.”

The order said the inspector general and chief commissioner may also consider developing a mechanism to examine people accused of sexual abuse by a medical board to assess the likelihood that they will repeat the offence if released on bail, and conduct a search regarding any criminal history.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2019