No more silence on child abuse


-Editorial

How come it took nine years for the truth about the horrifying pursuit of a pedophile gang in a village just an hour’s drive from Lahore to emerge? Some two dozen members of the gang would force-manage a child abuse scene, film it, take it to the victim’s family and on promise not to make it public get paid handsomely.

During these years, the gang victimised some 400 children, both boys and girls, and produced about 280 films, some of which were sold abroad to certain websites. And this was not being done secretly – the whole village of 5,000 people knew about it, as were in picture the local police officials and political leadership. But no one would stand in the way of the gang.

The police seemed to have been conniving at the crime, the political leaders nonchalant and looked the other way, if not patronising, and the victims’ families were either sceptic about the police coming to their rescue or demurred ignorance forced by the family honour.

Now that the sad saga of Pakistan’s biggest child abuse scandal has burst on the scene in all its ugly dimensions – in defiance of provincial government’s initial manoeuvres to downplay it, with Rana Sanaullah displaying his obfuscating skills – there are questions the authorities must answer, as well as some food for thought as to what happened and why, inviting brainstorming by the national leadership across the political divide.

Not only that some children have been deprived of their childhood, the Hussain Khanwala village apocalypse has earned lingering shame for the entire nation.

The question is why it took so long for the people of Hussain Khanwala to break silence and take to the streets. As the story unfolds, it appears they did not trust the State, which to them was more on the side of the criminals than on their side.

They did not respond to the calls by police from minarets of mosques because they did not believe the police was an honest broker in this case. Then there is a question: What prompted the provincial government and district police to give the entire episode a twist claiming that more than a child abuse national tragedy, the issue at contention is a piece of land – a blatant lie endorsed by the initial official inquiry.

Is it that this horrifying act, too, was to meet the fate of the Model Town killings? But for the forceful national outcry reflected from the media coverage and civil society’s tougher stand, the provincial government was set about consigning this case in limbo of protracted prosecution leaving the aggrieved parties’ wounds to be healed by the Surgeon Time.

Rightly, then the Lahore High Court has declined the Punjab government’s request for constituting a judicial commission on the child abuse scandal. If the Punjab government had concluded that local police was incompetent and could not be trusted for fair and honest investigation then why are those Johnnies still in police uniform?

One would hate to call the condemnatory resolutions passed by the Senate and other legislative houses as routine. But what to do if you know that a bill seeking legislation against child abuse tabled by Marvi Memon (PML-N) in 2014 still awaits deliberations by the parliament.

In the absence of a clearly laid out anti-child abuse law, punishing offenders like the Hussain Khanwala pedophile gang remains problematic. Of course, the self-esteem the children have lost cannot be retrieved nor can the trauma and the scars on their souls healed. A total national commitment is in order that such a ghastly act is not repeated anywhere in Pakistan.

Crime-specific enactment and stiff punishment of the guilty in this particular case is the need of the hour. Imperative it is also that the officials who acted as silent spectators as this heinous crime was being committed should get an exemplary punishment for their grim dereliction of duty.

On a broader canvas, there is the need to redefine some of the cultural moors like family honour, which in its present context tends to encourage offences like child abuse. The families of the child abuse victims could be blackmailed, in many cases repeatedly, by the gangsters only because the family honour code inhibited raising their voice against the criminals.

Nations that connive at crimes like the abuse suffered by the Hussain Khanwala children are destroyed by God – like the people of Lut and the city which was turned upside down after Hazrat Lut warned them explicitly; but his people did not heed any warnings whatsoever and continued to reject him.

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