Even in floods, sexual predators hunt children in Pakistan

Even during `cataclysmic` floods in Pakistan, there is no escape for young children from being sexually abused. A young girl, seeking food, was abducted, confined to a room and gangraped for days in Sindh Pakistan. Her heart-rending video on social media forced the police to hunt down the culprits. A few days ago, a 10-year old girl was similarly raped and killed and her brutalised body was left floating in a private swimming pool in Lahore. On August 29, 2022, another eight-year-old girl was brutally gang-raped in the Umarkot region of Sindh and her eyes were gouged out after that.

How many other young girls and boys have fallen to predators in the floods is not easily known. Going by the official figures, the number of such child abuse cases have been on the rise in Pakistan in the past few years. Last year, the number of such children was 3852 across Pakistan. In other words, more than 10 children fall victims to gross child abuse every day in Pakistan. This figure is at least 30 per cent more than the figure of 2020, a clear indication of the state’s failure to protect children from predators. About 54% of victims were girls and 46% were boys.

Writing a poignant commentary on the horrific series of child abuse cases in Lahore, the English daily, Daily Times (September 1, 2022), said “The horrific ordeal of not one, not two, but seven children forced to hold their breath under the shadows of horrific abuse in just seven days across Lahore has managed to go unnoticed amid the ongoing climatic emergency. That the victims included a mentally challenged girl, a madrasa student, a star-crossed guest and someone lured away from the safety of his house is irrefutable evidence about these cases being just the tip of the gruesome iceberg. No child is safe anywhere.“

There has been a sharp rise in the number of child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan with citizens taking to the streets to protest against lack of any urgency on the part of police or political parties. Child rights’ groups fear that the rise in such heinous offence could be caused by  the rise of `dark web` gangs trading in trafficking and pornography. Senior officials of police and Meta (Facebook), recently disclosed that over two million explicit images of children were uploaded from Pakistan in 2021.

Data collected by Sahil, a well known child protection NGO, showed that most cases appear in Kasur district of Punjab with 298 cases in 2021. Kasur has been in the news for a massive child pornography ring and the brutal rape and killing of young Zainab. Kasur is followed by Rawalpindi and Islamabad with 292 and 247 cases, a tell-tale sign of the existence of a trafficking ring. Police officials have indicated a disturbing rise in the  sexual abuse of boys from six to 10 years. They caution that the numbers could just be the tip of the iceberg since abusers in most of the cases were known to the victims and therefore many cases go unreported due to shame, ostracisation and fear.