IN a meeting held on Tuesday, the Senate Special Committee on Child Protection spoke of the need to strengthen the investigation process in child abuse cases, including addressing loopholes in existing child protection laws and building the capacity of medical and investigative officers to handle such cases. As the Kasur child sexual abuse ring that was exposed in 2015 demonstrates, in many instances these are not isolated crimes committed by individual assailants, but violations ranging from physical violence to cybercrimes, committed on a massive scale and in collusion with multiple perpetrators. Tragically, despite the shocking revelations of 2015, or the horrific rape-murder of little Zainab in 2018 — an event that became the catalyst for the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act — predators continue to victimise children with a sense of impunity. Earlier this year, the child protection advocacy group Sahil revealed it had documented at least 2,846 cases of child abuse reported in newspapers in Pakistan in 2019. The grim reality is that, given the stigma attached to the issue as well as the fact that assailants are often either a family member or closely acquainted with the victim’s family, this figure is a drop in the ocean compared to the actual rate of child sexual abuse in Pakistan. Similarly, for every case of a child domestic worker being physically assaulted that receives the attention of the authorities and public, there are scores more incidents that go undetected.
Our laws must be strengthened, but it is equally important that attempts to improve legislation not take place in a vacuum. Laws alone are not enough to guarantee the safety and well-being of Pakistani children — particularly those who are at higher risk of neglect, abuse or exploitation. Greater scrutiny and vigilance are needed of schools, madressahs and the places in which children work. More investment is needed in specialised child protective services. The debate must continue in order to shine a light on more than just the tip of the iceberg.