Kasur might not be the only hotspot. There could be others. But probably we are waiting for more tragedies before we start looking
The way the Kasur tragedy has been turned into a political brawl is appalling. Those who want to settle political scores are only pushing for symbolic solutions, which in no way will make millions of other children safe. Such gimmicks in fact will only divert attention from real issues.
The story of Zainab’s rape and ruthless murder is not about Punjab but about Pakistan. This is not about negligence on the part of a police officer or a political party but the failure of state machinery. The incident is one of many, unveiling the vulnerability of our law and order system and state capability. Are we even fit to keep our children safe?
Looking closely at the media reports, any concerned citizen would have many unanswered questions. These questions pertain to the context of the crime, specifics of this particular case and about the horrifying statistics and government response so far.
Seemingly, Zainab’s murder was not an isolated incident and was the 12th such case of child sexual abuse reported within a 2-kilometre radius in the past 12 months. Besides geographical proximity, other similarities in these cases include use of under-construction houses, crimes occurring between 4pm and 9pm, and rape or sodomy of children before killing them. The forensic reports confirm the same DNA in at least six of the cases and the police are trying to match the DNA profile with those of scores of arrested suspects.
One thing is clear that the area was definitely a hotspot for such crimes with the possibility of a serial criminal in play. However, all these horrifying details are brought to public notice, only after Zainab’s murder. Why had a high-profile investigation not been launched earlier? Why was this massive DNA matching exercise not initiated before? Is it only because this case became a social media sensation or because the police mishandled the protesters, killing two of them?
The infamous child pornography scandal exposed in 2015 also provided a valid context for why this string of crimes should have rung a bell in the quarters concerned much earlier. At least there could have been better coverage of CCTV cameras or an attempt to identify key suspects over the last one year. But there was no such response.
Data collected by Sahil — an independent NGO — shows 129 cases of child assault in Kasur reported in 2017, including 34 abductions, 23 rapes, 19 sodomy cases, 17 attempted rapes and 10 abductions with rapes or gang-rapes. During the last three years, on average there have been two reported cases of child sexual abuse every three days in Kasur.
Interestingly, the website of the District Police Officer Kasur highlights crimes like vehicle theft, narcotics and cattle rustling but remains conspicuously silent about child sexual abuse. Even the safety tips given on the website say nothing on the subject.
Another issue relates to specifics of this particular incident. Zainab was kidnapped on Thursday, January 4th. The FIR was registered on January 5th, while the poor child’s body was found on January 9th. An eight-year-old girl missing, even if not abducted, would be extremely vulnerable. Initial few hours of action after a child goes missing are of critical importance. How did the investigation proceed during the five days between the abduction and discovery of body is yet to be disclosed. Why was there a delay of one day before the FIR was registered?
Furthermore, the CCTV footage clearly shows the poor girl willingly walking with the culprit. This is not unusual as 70% or more of child abuse crimes are done either by acquaintances or strangers-turned-acquaintances. This should have narrowed down the periphery of investigation.
Even more shockingly, while the footage showed the man with a beard, the sketch issued was without one. Although the accused could have gotten rid of the beard, the police should have issued both sketches. Media reports also highlighted inaccuracies in the sketch.
Sahil’s aggregate data shows that about 11 children were sexually abused everyday in the country in 2016, while a child was murdered after sexual abuse every 3-4 days. Only 78% of these cases were registered with the police and there were 142 such cases where the police refused to register an FIR. The data relies on media reports and NGOs’ own work for such statistics. Imagine the scale and number of incidents not reported in the media and possible underreporting. Unfortunately, there is no counter-estimate or reported data by the government.
The numbers are horrendous and the scale and seriousness of this issue has been severely understated. Many countries have national registry of child offenders that are made public so that parents keep their children safe. But in Pakistan, the state has not been able to accurately report on the issue, let alone provide a response. Even in a few reported cases where perpetrators are found, convictions are rare.
Nevertheless, the state needs to answer why Zainab had to be brutally murdered to elicit a serious response. Kasur might not be the only hotspot. There could be others. But probably we are waiting for more tragedies before we start looking.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2018.
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