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Pakistan child abuse scandal exposes lack of protection

13th Aug 2015
Pakistan child abuse scandal exposes lack of protection

By Aamir Latif

 

KARACHI, (AA): Outrage over a scandal involving the abuse of hundreds of children has propelled Pakistani child rights activists to push for new child protection laws.

The small northeastern town of Hussein Khanwala, not far from the Punjabi provincial capital Lahore, has allegedly seen more than 200 children abused by a gang over the last six years, and activists say it was an absence of proper laws that allowed the abuse to reach such a scale.

“There are no particular laws to deal with child abuse in the Pakistan Penal Code. This crime is dealt with under general laws,” Islamabad-based child rights activist Noor-ul-Islam told Anadolu Agency.

According to Islam, this has meant hundreds of accused abusers have been acquitted or given bail in child abuse cases in recent years, and possibly thousands of other incidents have gone unreported.

“This must be an eye-opener for us. If we do not take immediate steps for preventing this crime, then we should get ready to witness more scandals like it in future,” he warned. “Even the general laws are not properly implemented in child abuse cases. The complicated and cumbersome police and justice system often help the accused to get away.”

A bill that could deliver on some of Islam’s demands, to form a National Commission on Children’s Rights, has been waiting in parliament since 2001.

“This shows the level of seriousness of the government on child protection. We have been pressing the government for the last 14 years to at least hold a parliamentary debate on the bill but to no avail,” said Islam, who works for the Islamabad-based Child Rights Movement.

Mohammad Tehseen, a Lahore-based human rights activist, shared Islam’s view and argued that negligence lies at every level of the political system.

“Not only in the center but in all the provinces, especially in Punjab, child protection bills are awaiting the parliamentarians’ attention,” Tehseen said. “Child rights are not on the government’s priority list. The situation could be much better if whatever laws are implemented.”

Thousands of street children across the country are most at risk of long-term abuse, activists said.

Of some 70,000 street children living in the country’s major cities, 70 percent have been abused at least once, Naveed Shaikh, head of the Karachi-based Azad Foundation, which works with street children, told Anadolu Agency.

“These children can be intimidated more easily because there is no one to protect or supervise them in the streets,” said Shaikh. “Most of them are run-away children, therefore they turn out to be easy prey for the molesters.”

“More than 50 percent of child abuse cases, especially in rural areas like Hussein Khanwala, are never reported due to shame, fear and other taboos. Therefore, our research and data are not fully accurate,” he said.

He added that thousands of children who go to work during the day, often in places far from their homes and away from their parents’ supervision, are also vulnerable.

Shaikh praised the Punjab government’s establishment of a Child Protection Bureau, where street children are kept until their parents are found, and called for more centers in other provinces.

“This is not enough. Much more is required to save our children, who are not only our future, but our present also,” he said.

 

[Photo: Children in Pakistan some who are being abused. Photographer: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency]

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