NEWS
12/01/2018 4:08 PM IST | Updated 12/01/2018 4:41 PM IST

How The Rape And Murder Of A 7-Year-Old Girl In Pakistan's Hotbed Of Child Sexual Abuse Has Incited Massive Protests

The culprits haven't been caught yet.

AFP/Getty Images

As the world ushered in the new year, a seven-year-old girl went missing in Kasur district of Pakistan's Punjab. The girl's parents were away in Saudi Arabia at the time on a pilgrimage and she was living with her aunt. Conflicting reports say she had either stepped out for tuition classes or was headed to a nearby Koran reading class and never returned. Four days later, on 9 January, her body was found dumped near a trash yard in the neighbourhood. Post-mortem reports confirmed that she had been raped multiple times before she was strangulated. The report also suggested that she was dead days before her body was found.

The girl's father initially refused to bury her body. "We will not bury her until we get justice," he told reporters. "We are now afraid of letting our children leave the home. How was our child kidnapped from a busy market?" However, the girl's remains were laid to rest on 10 January and thousands joined her funeral procession.

Around the same time, CCTV footage showing the girl being led away by an unidentified man was beamed across television channels in Pakistan.

12th INCIDENT IN A YEAR IN SAME LOCATION

The rape and murder has fomented massive protests on social media and on the ground in parts of Pakistan. One of the several aspects of the case fuelling public outrage is the fact that this murder was the 12th such known incident in a year reported from 'within a two-kilometre radius in the past 12 months', according to The Express Tribune.

Brutality apart, Kasur has been known to be a hotbed for child rapists and sexual predators for years. Despite protests from locals and extensive media coverage of the dangers faced by children in the area, the police and authorities seem to be dragging their feet on taking resolute action against the problem. In fact, the father of the deceased 7-year-old told reporters that soon after she went missing, his family had complained to the police but the latter didn't launch search operations of the scale they should have.

"My relatives and neighbours told me that the police used to come, have food and leave. While they didn't do anything, my friends and family spent day and night looking for my daughter," Ameen Ansari told local media.

Kasur is not new to accusations of child sex abuse. In fact, for years, it has been a hotbed of crimes, especially of sexual nature, against children. According to a Washington Post report, "In 2015, police busted a gang running a child sex ring. The gang had allegedly abducted and assaulted at least 280 children since 2009. The families of the abducted children were often blackmailed, and video clips and images of the assaults were sold online."

The Express Tribune reported that in 2017, 129 cases of child sexual abuse were reported from Kasur alone. "Of them, 34 were abductions, 23 were rapes, 19 sodomy, 17 attempted rapes, six abduction and rapes, and four abduction and gang-rapes," the report quotes a child rights activist as saying. A fact-finding team of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission which met victims in the Kasur village where the child pornography racket was busted after 2015, observed that the villagers knew about the videos but kept mum on the same. The report said: "The villagers kept silent about the matter for many months because of the scandalous nature of the clippings and because of close relationship with many of the people concerned on both sides, the victims and the accused."

According to the report, when some of the parents of the victims mustered courage to report the crimes, not only did the police dismiss their claims, they ganged up with the accused to harass the complainants. "Despite FIRs being filed since early July 2015, the police took no action against many of the accused.While the police made no progress in investigation, they openly colluded with the accused party and aided the intimidation and harassment of the victim families and their supporters. This led to a protest demonstration by the complainant families and other villagers in August." The demonstrations took a violent turn leading to the villagers to clash with the police. It was only after these clashes that the crimes against children in Kasur was revealed to the media, the report adds.

The report carried the testimonies of various victims and families, whose children were not only abused, but they blackmailed with the clips of the assault. All of the families complained that the pornographers and rapists extorted huge sums of money from the families for years, threatening to make the clips public.

PROTESTS

While on social media, a hashtag demanding justice for the victim went viral, protests seized Kasur on the ground. As an angry mob tried to storm the deputy commissioner of police's office, police fired at them leading to the death of two protesters. Later, Dawn reported, 6 security personnel, including 4 policemen, were arrested for firing at the crowd.

HuffPost India couldn't confirm if the victims parents have given explicit consent on the sharing of her pictures, but her picture has been plastered all over social media and news reports. However, Saif Ullah Cheema, a reporter with a Pakistani newspaper told HuffPost India that no media house is allowed to publish the victim's picture without blurring according to a diktat by PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority). Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan posted a picture of the girl condemning the assault and the same was retweeted over 12,000 times.

However, activists pointed out that the road to justice will be long and tricky and the protests could just be a flash in the pan. Shumaila Hussain Shahani, founder of All Pakistan Feminists Association, pointed out that the protests particularly intensified after the victim's picture started doing the rounds of social media. Perhaps, putting a face to the victim fanned public anger more than just stating facts would -- after all, such incidents had been being reported from the area for months now and there weren't mass protests against the same across Pakistan and abroad over it.

Shahani told HuffPost India, "According to a news report over 700 cases of child sexual abuse have been reported since 2015 in Kasur including that year's child sexual abuse ring. Eleven children were kidnapped raped and murdered in the same manner last year but we chose to not say anything because well we are moody. Another rape and murder of a 15 year old from Faisalabad was reported hours after the girl's murder was reported but do we care? There have been 2 more cases since, one is in Sukkur rapist set the girl on fire after he was met with resistance. Another rape and murder of 16 years old have been reported in another city too." While politicians may be crying themselves hoarse now, promising justice, a lot of this outrage is hypocritical, she added.

"Protests are demanding State to include sex education in our curriculum, to provide us space for dialogue on sex education, sex abuse etc. Because last time a TV drama Udaari touched the issue of pedophilia our media regulatory authority PEMRA issued a notice to the channel for showing obscenity? So speaking about issues is obscene for the State, how are we supposed to spread awareness if not talk about issues. How else do we save kids if not give them sex education?" Shahani asked. However, she added that while the political class stuck to regressive 'we-have-to-protect-our-mothers-daughters' rhetoric, several sensible people also took over social media to emphasise the importance of apprising children and parents of these dangers.

More On This Topic