child abuse
Illustration by Aneeq Zaman

In response to rising instances of child sexual abuse in the region, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and the Supreme Court for meting out severe punishments those convicted of child sexual abuse, including chemical castration and public hanging. A special committee of the KP Assembly, headed by KP Assembly Speaker Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani, was constituted to refer to these institutions.

The resolution will be brought to the table once the committee has secured recommendations from the CII, according to Hisham Inamullah, KP Minster for Social Welfare.

“We have asked for their opinion on [defining] the age of the child and whether any other punishment can be legally meted out in addition to death to the rapist,” he explained. “Our query was whether or not castration is a valid and legal punishment [according to the CII].”

“The people demand that child abusers be publicly hanged [so as to deter further crimes]. Society finds such individuals repulsive, however the only obstacle we face in moving this resolution is the Supreme Court’s judgment against public executions,” Ghani said, insisting that the resolution will be drafted in purview of existing legal obligations.

The Legal Definition of a “Child”

“Under the Majority Act of 1875, an adult is one who is at least 18 years old,” explained Latif Afridi, President of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association. “Anyone younger than that is considered a child.”

The provisions contained in the Majority Act however are not binding to other laws. Hence why there is a dichotomy in the age that defines a human being as a “child” in Pakistan’s marriage and juvenile laws. Advocate General KP Shumail Butt has advised the KP Assembly’s special committee to the CII to take into account all existing laws before legislating new punishments.

Misguided Legislation

Legislating new and more severe punishments is not a guarantee that child sexual abuse will be deterred. Awami National Party’s member of the KP Assembly, Shugufta Malik, pointed out that existing institutions meant for the protection and facilitation of vulnerable children are utterly dysfunctional. More specifically, the KP Child Protection and Welfare Commission has been bereft of a bureau chief for the past 6 years, claimed Malik.

“The unit is non-operational,” she said. “We raised this issue previously, and with the change of ministry we raised it again to no avail.”

Sahil’s Cruel Numbers reports that there had been a 10% increase in reported crimes against children in 2018. However, these figures only reflect cases reported in newspapers and media outlets – actual numbers are believed to be much higher but remain unaccounted for due to the absence of any government database or child protection and welfare bodies.

Real Hurdles in Child Protection and Welfare

According to child rights activists, preventive measures are desperately required to stop child sexual abuse. Existing child protection laws have proven to be futile – in addition to lack of implementation, lack of police interest in maintaining vigilance, notions of shame preventing parents from giving children necessary sex education in order to ascertain and immediately report abuse, notions of honor preventing guardians from reporting child sexual abuse to law enforcement, and failure to apprehend abusers due to poor and lapsed investigative practices are some of the many contributing factors to prevailing child sexual abuse in the country.

The swift execution of Zainab Ansari’s murderer, Imran Ali, who was also indicted for the rape and murder of 12 other minor girls, failed to be the precedent the State had hoped it would be to deter instances in sexual crimes against children. In the past year, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone 248 children were victim to sexual abuse. And within the first month and half of the new decade, several such cases have been reported from Nowshera.

Child psychologists are of the view that the Government needs to make KP’s Child Protection and Welfare Commission functional in order to truly have any effect in preventing child sexual abuse in the region.

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