View From The Courtroom: Need for stringent laws as child abuse cases increase

Published February 3, 2020
Frequent cases of violence against children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have triggered public protest. — Creative commons/File
Frequent cases of violence against children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have triggered public protest. — Creative commons/File

The frequent cases of violence against children, including sexual abuse and murder, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have triggered public protests with demands from different quarters for amending the relevant child protection laws so as to effectively tackle such offences.

Two recent cases have specially resulted into public outcry. A 10-year-old boy was sexually assaulted at a seminary in Mansehra in Dec 2019 and also kept in illegal confinement for two days. The prime accused in the case named Qari Shamsuddin has already been arrested and according to concerned police officials the DNA test results proved that he had raped the child.

The accused along with co-accused persons have also severely tortured the boy. An FIR was registered against them under different provisions of Pakistan Penal Code and KP Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010.

In another such incident, a minor girl of eight was murdered in Kaka Sahib area of Nowshera on Jan 18. Local police there have arrested two suspects one of whom is stated to be a juvenile, who has also confessed to his guilt before a local court. However, the said suspect alleged that he had been sexually assaulted by maternal uncle of the deceased girl twice after which he had decided to take revenge.

Subsequently, in Nowshera district a four-year-old girl was sexually abused by a man, Shehzad, in jurisdiction of Akbarpura police station on Jan 27. The girl had gone out of home to bring a packet of chips for herself. The FIR was registered under section 337 B (sexual abuse) of PPC and section 50 (exposing a child to seduction) and section 53 (child sexual abuse) of the Child Protection and Welfare Act (CPWA).

In another incident in Nowshera, a minor boy of 10 was allegedly gang-raped by four persons at Chowki Mamrez area on Jan 16.

Recently, a resolution was tabled by MPA Asia Khattak in the KP Assembly which was also supported by other women MPAs. The said resolution states that there is a massive increase in cases of child sexual abuse which have regularly been reported in the media.

Through the said resolution the provincial government has been asked to make amendments in CPWA and enhance the sentence of seven years for sexual abuse of children to life imprisonment and also to double the fine.

The resolution has now been referred to the assembly’s special committee on child protection, headed by Speaker Mushtaq Ghani. The committee has been assigned task to revisit existing laws on child protection with a view to suggest severe punishment, measures for eradication of child abuse in shelter homes and educational institutions, propose amendments for speedy trial of such cases and measures for sensitisation of society on the issue besides seeking input from experts on criminal law, etc.

Presently, multiple laws are available in the country for dealing with child-related offences.

Punjab was the first province where a law on child protection was enacted in 2004. The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act, 2004, deals with a variety of issues related to child protection. The law gives a definition of ‘destitute and neglected child.’

Under this law, a child protection and welfare bureau has to be set up with wide-ranging functions. The bureau has also to set up child protection institutions in different areas.

The KP CPWA was enacted in 2010. This law is more comprehensive than that of Punjab. The KP law included several offences against children with prescribed punishments. The offences incorporated in the Act include: child pornography, sexual abuse, sale in child organs, corporal punishment and child begging and trafficking.

The KP Act provides for setting up of child protection bodies, including child protection courts, the Child Protection and Welfare Commission, child protection units on district level, child protection institute, etc.

The Sindh Child Protection Authority Act, 2011, was enacted in June 2011. This law makes it binding on the provincial government to establish Sindh Child Protection Authority, which is chaired by minister for social welfare. The authority has to set up child protection units and also appoint child protection officers. However, this law is not as comprehensive as that of KP and Punjab.

Balochistan Child Protection Act, 2016, was enacted in Nov 2016. This law includes definitions of different categories of violence against children, including mental violence, physical violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, etc. It provides for setting up of a child protection commission on provincial level and child protection units on district level.

Several important amendments were made in PPC and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) through the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 2016, which was enacted in March 2016. Some of the provisions included in PPC are similar to the one available in KPCPWA, including offences related to exposure to seduction, child pornography, sexual abuse, etc.

Similarly, new section 377A and 377B were incorporated in PPC in which a detailed definition of sexual abuse and punishment for that are given, respectively.

In 2018, an amendment was made in section 377B of the PPC to make the punishment for sexual abuse more stringent. It now provides imprisonment which shall not be less than 14 years and may extend to 20 years with minimum fine of Rs1 million.

Similarly, in the 2016 amendments the offence of child pornography was made punishable to minimum two years imprisonment and maximum seven years besides fine.

However, through amendments in 2018, the said offence was made punishable with at least 14 years imprisonment and maximum 20 years imprisonment with minimum fine of Rs1 million.

Moreover, in 2016 death penalty was introduced for raping a minor. The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences related to rape) Act, 2016, was introduced in 2016.

Under those amendments, a sub-section 3 was included in section 376 PPC which provides: “Whoever commits rape of a minor or a person with mental or physical disability shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.”

A few days ago the Child Rights Movement Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (CRMKP) expressed concern over the lack of coordination among national and provincial human rights institutions on child sexual abuse cases.

Experts on the subject say it is need of the hour to strengthen the child protection mechanisms, specially the bodies available under the KPCPWA.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2020

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