A confidential report from the home department has unveiled serious concerns regarding the escalating rates of child abuse in Punjab, with the shocking revelation that boys are more commonly subjected to this terrifying ordeal than girls.
The report discloses unsettling details about the perpetrators facing trial in courts, indicating that 55% of them were neighbors of the victims, 32% were strangers, and 13% were relatives.
To gather data on child abuse in Punjab, the department collected information from various regions, highlighting that the Rawalpindi region and Lahore city reported the lowest incidence of crimes against children compared to other divisions in the province.
The report identifies several key factors as major obstacles in controlling sexual crimes against children in Punjab. It reveals that during the first five and a half months of the year, a total of 1,390 incidents of child abuse were reported in Punjab, with boys accounting for 69% (959) of the victims and girls comprising 31% (431).
Additionally, the department provides recommendations to combat child abuse crimes and has forwarded the report to the Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) and the Regional Police Officers (RPOs) with the expectation that they will be implemented thoroughly.
The report acknowledges that cases of child abuse are frequently being filed in Punjab, with boys more likely to report their experiences compared to girls. It also highlights the issue of underreporting, attributing it to fear and cultural taboos prevalent in society that make it difficult for victims to come forward.
The report identifies the reluctance of parents to subject their children to medico-legal examinations as a hindrance in addressing the issue. It further emphasizes that lack of support from family members, friends, neighbors, and the community isolates the victims and makes them hesitant to share their experiences about the abusers.
Socio-economic stresses, unemployment, low self-confidence, feelings of incompetence, loneliness, and psychological unrest are cited as additional factors contributing to child abuse.
The report states that the highest number of child abuse incidents were reported in the Gujranwala region/division (220), followed by DG Khan (199), Faisalabad (186), Multan (140), Bahawalpur (129), Sheikhupura (128), Sahiwal (127), and Sargodha (103). The Rawalpindi region and Lahore city had the lowest reported cases with 69 and 89 incidents, respectively.
The report concludes that child sexual abuse in Pakistan is influenced by various social factors such as patriarchal norms, power imbalances, poverty, illiteracy, and social inequalities, all of which contribute to the vulnerability of children. Additionally, victim-blaming attitudes and a lack of awareness about child rights further compound the challenges faced in addressing and preventing these crimes.
While Pakistan has enacted several laws to address child sexual abuse, such as the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2016, the Prevention of Child Abuse Act of 2018, and the Zainab Alert, Response, and Recovery Act 2020, effective implementation, enforcement, and coordination among relevant agencies are crucial to ensure justice for victims and punishment for perpetrators, as highlighted in the report.
The report puts forward recommendations for the home department, including enhanced efforts from the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) to protect children from criminals. It suggests that the CPWB should have a dedicated team of professionals and motivated officials, including child protection officers, psychologists, law officers, and doctors, to focus on protecting children from abuse and rehabilitating victims.
The report calls for a well-defined mechanism to improve coordination among stakeholders such as the police, parents, CPWBs, and other relevant federal and provincial agencies. It emphasizes the importance of sensitization and capacity building for all stakeholders and staff in relevant agencies.
Training programs are proposed for professionals working with children, such as teachers, healthcare providers, law enforcement personnel, and social workers, to enhance their skills in identifying signs of abuse, responding sensitively, and providing appropriate support.
Effective coordination between provincial helplines and linking the domestic violence helpline (1099) with the police department is recommended. The report also suggests the development of a database for abducted or missing children to aid analysis and policy recommendations.
The department strongly advocates for the national and provincial legislatures to review existing child protection laws and reform the current apparatus. It proposes the establishment of special courts for child abuse cases, along with enhanced capacity and training for law enforcement agencies and the judicial system to handle such cases effectively.
Furthermore, the report calls for a review of the role of the Ministry of Human Rights in addressing child abuse crimes. It recommends that the ministry revamps the national child protection center to better identify, prevent, and report incidents of child abuse.
The report emphasizes the necessity of holistic support services, including counseling, medical assistance, legal aid, and rehabilitation programs, to be made available to child survivors and their families to aid their recovery and reintegration into society.
** Taking the lead from Daily Dawn