It’s no secret that people with disabilities in Pakistan get the shorter end of the stick.

It’s no secret that people with disabilities in Pakistan get the shorter end of the stick.

Except for a few token quota jobs designated for differently abled Pakistanis, there are rarely any opportunities. Universities and schools do not cater to their needs as a result, the people have to go to specialized schools for them to further their feelings of alienation and of being the ‘other’.

And even armed with an education and skills as good as the next candidate, people with disabilities in Pakistan, rarely ever get hired. Private companies and other employers deem them as less worthy of the job even if their skill sets match the position perfectly.

And such is the story of Shahbaz, who slowly lost his eyesight until he was classified as legally blind and now needs help for doing even little things in everyday life.

Shahbaz’s mother went blind about 13 years ago. And Shahbaz’s own illness crept up on him at a young age.

Shahbaz got diagnosed with glaucoma when he was just 14 and as these last four years have passed, the disease has all but taken Shahbaz’s vision.  I talked to Shahbaz on the phone, and while I tried to wrap my head around the feeling of losing your vision at the young age of 18, Shahbaz radiated positivity on the call and did not at all seem hung up over his disability.

Even before his diagnosis, Shahbaz wanted to go into software engineering and his plans remain the same. I asked him whether he thought he would still be able to go into this field considering he has now lost his vision, he said he was completely confident because he knew hard work and God’s grace would carry him through.

n let being blind stop him from pursuing his goals, it fueled Shahbaz’s fire even more.

He always wanted to be someone who succeeded on his own and losing his eyesight has not stopped his drive to do exactly that. When Shahbaz’s eyesight started getting worse, he worried about how he would give his board exams, but surprisingly, the Sindh board was incredibly cooperative and made a special bigger font sized paper especially for him. Now that his eyesight has gotten even worse, Shahbaz gets around with the help of his family and friends. Shahbaz is currently in his first year in college and is doing pretty well.

But, even with the right qualification, Shahbaz is unable to find a job.

Shahbaz needs employment right now so he can help out with finances at home since his father is a tea boy and can only earn so much. An NGO by the name of NOWPDP is helping him out in finding the right job. Shahbaz himself prides himself on his ability to communicate well and having talked to him on the phone, I agree. He hopes to find a job in a call centre or as a receptionist, and I truly hope he does since his family is going through a tough time financially and need the income.

The job will make all the difference in the lives of Shahbaz and his family members.

You can listen to Shahbaz tell you more about himself in the video below:


Justice on Trial

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To say that the blasphemy law is a sensitive topic in Pakistan is a huge understatement. When it emerged that on October 31 the Supreme Court of Pakistan would declare its verdict on the appeal of Aasia Bibi – a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code on charges of blasphemy – it was a given that the case would be the subject of cautious media focus.

Almost as certain was the fact that the verdict, whether in Aasia Bibi’s favour or otherwise, the discussion that would inevitably ensue, would steer clear of all mention of reform or abuse of this legal provision, the associated intimidation of civil society and the legal fraternity, and the consequences for society and the individuals falsely accused under this law, whether for economic or other reasons or to settle personal vendettas.

According to statistics provided by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, as many as 1,546 individuals have been charged under the blasphemy law in Pakistan from 1987 to date. Of these, the overwhelming majority of cases (1,173) were lodged in the Punjab, followed by Sindh (318), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (37) and Balochistan (6). The majority of the accused (775) have been Muslims.

It is common knowledge that accusing anyone of blasphemy in Pakistan today is akin to passing a death sentence on him or her. Although no one convicted and sentenced to death under the blasphemy law has been executed so far, at least 69 blasphemy accused have been killed in extrajudicial targeted attacks between 1990 and 2018. These include killings in mob attacks as well as the targeting of the accused in police custody and in prison. Mashal Khan’s lynching at a university last year following unfounded accusations of posting blasphemous content on social media is only one of the more recent examples of how many people subscribe to, and justify the actions of the killers. 

If a blasphemy accused happens to be from a religious minority community, those sharing the same faith can expect to be fair game. The torching of around 100 homes belonging to the Christian community in Lahore in 2013, and the killing of at least four members of the Ahmadi community in Gujranwala in arson attacks in 2014, are examples of just some of the additional vulnerabilities that members of minority religious faiths face when such charges are levelled against anyone sharing the same faith. Apparent impunity for those responsible has further emboldened the zealots, or criminals, depending on what their motivation to kill was.

Even if zealots do choose the recourse of the law, the invariable attending coercion and intimidation make it almost impossible for the accused to defend themselves at their trial. There is more than one instance of trial judges barring repetition of the allegedly blasphemous comment, stating that would constitute blasphemy. Cross-examination of witnesses becomes both futile and perilous for the lawyer of the accused. The impact of the extensive coercion and intimidation of judges, lawyers or the accused by charged mobs packing the trial courts needs to be seen to be believed. 

To the zealots, any lawyer agreeing to represent a blasphemy accused is apparently guilty of the same offence. Advocate Rashid Rehman is a case in point: he was assassinated in Multan in 2014 for legally representing Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer facing blasphemy accusations, in court. 

A month prior to his assassination, Rehman had been given death threats inside a courtroom in the presence of the trial judge designated for Junaid’s case. He was told that unless he withdrew from the case he would “not be able to come to court next time because you will not exist any more.” Rehman had earlier said in what now appears to be a premonition of sorts, that defending a blasphemy accused in Pakistan was like “walking into the jaws of death.” And he had promptly drawn the judge’s attention to the latest threat made in his court, but the judge had reportedly remained silent.The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, for which Rashid worked, has complained of “the complete lack of interest of the authorities to go after his killers.” 

Meanwhile, Junaid Hafeez, the accused in the case, a Fulbright scholar and at the time of his arrest in March 2013, a visiting faculty member at the Department of English Literature at Multan’s Bahauddin Zakariya University is still languishing in Multan Central Jail. His trial is yet to conclude.

Hafeez’s invitations to women-rights activists to deliver guest lectures on campus and engage with students had apparently delighted many at the university. But it was perhaps this very popularity that had engendered his plight. 

After the blasphemy allegation was made, Hafeez’s father faced great difficulty before a lawyer finally agreed to defend him. However, the lawyer quit after the first hearing because he was harassed by scores of lawyers who gathered to protest against him. Rashid Rehman had then dared to defend Hafeez, when no other lawyer was willing to take the case. 

After Rehman’s murder, Hafeez had no lawyer for many months until late 2014, when a Lahore-based lawyer decided to take up the case. The lawyer travels from Lahore to the Multan prison for every hearing and prefers not to be mentioned by name. Interestingly, the trial judge has been visibly upset with the prosecution for not producing any solid evidence against Hafeez despite numerous opportunities. 

In order to comprehend the perils for anyone meeting or sympathising with a blasphemy accused or publicly calling for a fair trial for them or reform of the law, one need only look at the assassinations of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti. 

There are very few defences even against patently false blasphemy accusations. Once such a charge has been levelled against someone, nothing, not even acquittal by a court of law, can undo the damage done. Going into hiding or relocation to another area are usually the only options. 

In 2012, a Muslim cleric accused Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl aged between 11 and 14 according to various accounts, of burning pages of the Holy Quran. The case received considerable media attention in part because of Rimsha’s young age and questions about her mental abilities—she was reported to be suffering from Down’s syndrome. 

Rimsha was arrested and her family taken into protective custody after an angry mob gathered outside her Christian slum neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, demanding that she be handed over so they could burn her for her crime. 

Hundreds of Christians fled their homes in the neighbourhood after the accusation, fearing violent retaliation from extremists. 

A fellow cleric later accused Rimsha’s accuser of fabricating evidence against her. The Islamabad High Court ordered that the charges against Rimsha be dropped after police informed the court that they had found no evidence against her. 

Such were the apprehensions about her safety that a military helicopter took Rimsha from the prison yard and she went into hiding. Her family continued to receive threats despite the charges being dropped and her lawyer later reported that she and family were forced to secretly move to Canada over security concerns. 

The cleric who was arrested for allegedly forging evidence against her was acquitted after a court ruled that the prosecution had not brought forth sufficient evidence to convict him. 

UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, briefly visited Pakistan in May 2012. In her report, she specifically noted that “lawyers, in addition to their reluctance to take up such cases because they are afraid for their security, are targeted and forced not to represent their clients properly.” 

She highlighted instances of blasphemy cases brought to her attention where “judges have been coerced or pressured to decide against the accused, even without supporting evidence.” 

The special rapporteur narrated as an emblematic example, “the case of Judge Pervez Ali Shah who had handed down the death sentence to the person who murdered Salmaan Taseer. The judge was threatened with death and had to flee the country with his family, while the murderer was celebrated by religious extremist groups,” the UN rapporteur stated in her report. 

There are numerous other instances of the targeting of judges. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti of the Lahore High Court was assassinated in 1997 for acquitting two Christians accused of blasphemy. 

In a 2015 report on the implementation of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, the International Commission of Jurists underlined the need for independent lawyers to form a foundational pillar of the justice system within states with respect to the rule of law. It stated that without lawyers able and willing to provide services as defence counsel, fair trials were not possible in blasphemy cases.

 Returning to the Supreme Court verdict on Aasia Bibi’s appeal on October 31, the blockage of thoroughfares across the country by some religious groups was hardly surprising. Comparisons were swiftly drawn to a similar siege in November last by the same groups, over a change in the oath that a member of parliament is required to take.

 The current prime minister, who was then in the opposition and was keen to topple the government, had at that time spoken of his followers’ keenness to join the November 2017 protest. 

Now finding himself in power, the prime minister in a televised address to the nation vowed that a small minority would not be allowed to challenge the state’s writ. Leaders of the religious groups in question meanwhile, invited their followers and anyone willing to listen, to assassinate the judges who had decided Asia Bibi’s appeal. 

The premier’s stance led some to believe that the state might after all take a stand and send the message that dharnas and roadblocks would not coerce the state into abandoning citizens’ rights and ceding space to extremists. 

The manner in which the authorities buckled under the protesters’ demands, however, suggested that there was no end in sight to the official apathy, concessions to, and appeasement of extremists and erosion of the state writ. By pretending to take on the protesters and then meekly submitting to all their demands, the authorities have merely kicked the can down the road and, in the process, strengthened those who had sought to bring the government to its knees. Even as some political leaders spoke of the need to support the Supreme Court decision, and opposition leaders agreed to stand by the prime minister if he took on the rampaging extremists, it seems that stand and the judges who gave the verdict in the Aasia Bibi appeal, have been abandoned. 

Any UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers visiting Pakistan in the future might record the repercussions of that. As for the people of Pakistan, including the religious minority communities, the message  is clear: they are on their own.


Over Half of Drug-addicted Women are Educated: Report

Interactive Map Shows Most Drug Addicted Countries Throughout The World weed45

Over half of women drug addicts in Pakistan are educated, according to a recent report of the narcotics division.

Taking note of the dangerous trend, the former government had announced a rehabilitation programme for the affected women, but the project has yet to be implemented.

The report available with Daily Express states that the current government had abandoned the plans to rehabilitate women victim of substance abuse.

According to available documents, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government had set up a ministry of narcotics control and among other duties it was assigned to create awareness against drug abuse particularly among women.

Owing to lack of facilities and social barriers, women find it almost impossible to seek help in cases of addiction.

Therefore, the past government had not only planned Narcotics Control Division to set up rehabilitation centres, but also start a series of seminars and awareness events sensitising women against substance abuse.

According to report, the number of drug-addict women is rising at an alarming rate, which warrants immediate action from the state and government functionaries.

The report states that among the drug addict women the division profiled, at least 53 per cent were educated. While hinting at the scourge of easy availability of drugs on campuses, the report asserted on government to take preventive measures.

It said that majority of women addicts belong to educated metropolitan communities. Out of the total number of women drug addicts it interviewed, 53 per cent happened to be college or university graduates while 17 per cent were matriculate, middle or primary pass.

A whopping 43 per cent of all addicted women were married, 20 per cent of which have been married for 12-15 years. The figures again point towards access to narcotics and a certain social acceptability of addiction rather than getting professional help for rehabilitation.

According to the report, 49 per cent of women get their drugs supplied from their friends, while 19 per cent of the others get them from their neighbourhood suppliers.

Shelved project

Taking note of the issue, the former government of Pakistan People Party had announced a project for rehabilitation of married women addicts. The project was launched on the premise that women victims of drug abuse will affect their whole families. Hence, the government tasked the Narcotics Control Division with the challenge to organise extensive seminars, workshops and awareness campaigns related to drug prevention and control.

The programme aimed to dilute stigma related to drug addicts and rehabilitate affected women and transform them back into productive members of the society. The programme proposals were however kept in files for years with no practical implementation.

According to sources, PPP in its tenure had operated a now-defunct Ministry of Drug Control on ad hoc basis. However, no significant progress has been made in this regard by the present government.


Interactive Map Shows Most Drug Addicted Countries Throughout The World drug a

Making Children Safer

With Punjab committing to adopt the Zainab Alert Bill, a well-thought-out mechanism for coordination between the federal and provincial stakeholders will be integral to its success

This week the Senate Special Committee on Child Protection was informed that incidents of child abuse in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had increased during 2019. Reporting statistics are notoriously difficult to compare across time and location; however, it speaks to the fact that previously taboo subjects of child abuse and sexual exploitation are being reported.

As a legal category, children, are treated differently under the law given their heightened vulnerability in society. Children are subject to legal guardianship till they reach the age of majority and have been granted specific protections under the law. Laws seeking to address child abuse should take into account and legislate for power imbalances which are accentuated by age.

The Zainab Alert, Recovery and Response Act 2020 passed by the National Assembly on January 10, seeks to establish an early warning and recovery system. Poignantly, the law was passed on the second death anniversary of the brutal murder of Zainab Ansari, a case that captured the imagination of the public. Stories of child abuse, exploitation and abduction weigh heavy on our collective consciousness because of the vulnerability children experience and our failure in protecting them. There has been a slew of legislation in recent years guaranteeing legal protections to children and augmenting the powers of the state to punish perpetrators, including the ICT Child Protection Act 2018 and Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act 2016 which amended various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code to legislate for the criminalisation of exposure of seduction to a child (Section 292A), child pornography (Section 292B), the offence of cruelty to a child (Section 328B) and offence of sexual abuse with child (Section 377A).

Within this mosaic legal landscape, the Zainab Alert Act seeks to create an integrated response system in order to issue alerts via broadcasting and telecommunication systems as well as transportation officials to recover abducted children. The idea is that community and cross-institutional engagement will increase the chances of recovery for abducted children. The Act establishes the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency of Missing and Abducted Children (ZARRA) and a helpline for reporting of cases. These institutions will vest with the National Commission on the Rights of the Child established under the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Act which was passed in 2015, which is yet to be made functional. This aspect of the Act is borrowing from international practices such as the AMBER Alert system in the United States. The creation of new institutions to address a long-standing, structural problem has been a neat solution for legislators, however, unless these institutions are grounded in the pre-existing reporting and societal structures, they are sure to prove ineffectual. Given the dearth of resources dedicated to existing institutions, these problems are likely to plague the ZARRA and its accompanying bodies.

The biggest challenge for the Zainab Alert Act will be navigating the byzantine implementation mechanism consisting of the provincial and federal governments as well as coordinating with police stations. Since the Eighteenth Amendment, child protection is now a provincial subject, which means that each province can enact their own laws on the subject or adopt the Zainab Alert Act by passing it through the respective provincial assemblies.

The chief minister of Punjab has said that his provincial government intends to adopt the Act. However, the adoption mechanism will have to be well thought through as it will be coordinating with the federal ZARRA as well as law enforcement bodies at the local level. Additionally, there is some confusion within the government regarding this adoption process as last week, the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights declared that it will incorporate the Act through the jurisdiction of anti-terrorism courts (ATC) to ensure nation-wide application.[1] Overzealous use of anti-terrorism courts has obvious human rights implications, especially for cases involving minors and survivors of sexual violence which require a gender-sensitive approach by the judicial system.

To add to this, the success rates of alert systems in other jurisdictions have been mixed; while it has led to the recovery of hundreds of children in the United States, for instance, the recovery rate is low when it comes to stranger abductions. Furthermore, we need to be cautious regarding any surveillance systems brought on to supplement the alert system. Such measures need to be narrowly-tailored towards the purpose of preventing child abductions to prevent it from becoming an excuse to mount surveillance on public and private spaces.

Child abductions are part of the larger and complex reality of child abuse which is tied to the structures of exploitation that pervade in society. Child sexual abuse is part of the continuum of sexual violence that targets women and gender and sexual minorities. Local power structures work to thwart reporting and accountability for perpetrators, as seen recently in Mansehra where a local JUI-F leader openly sided with the abuser to protect him in a case of sexual abuse against a minor. We live with contradictions where cases of child abuse elicit public outrage, while at the same time the institution of the family works to silence victims of abusers who operate in close quarters. The problem is multifaceted and requires efforts that are thoughtful and grounded in meaningful institution-building.

Truth behind why child sexual assaults and abductions are on the rise in Pakistan




In 2015, the village Hussain Khan Wala in district Kasur, Punjab, Pakistan came under massive public scrutiny after reports of large-scale child sexual abuse became headline news.

The existence of several hundred video clips that showed instances of sexual abuse involving almost 300 children sent a wave of shock, anger and grief through Pakistan, and a government investigation was initiated. Hundreds of video clips showed that sexual abuse and videotaping of sexual abuse of children, male and female, continued from 2006 to 2014. Not only were the videos sold in the local markets they were also used to extract money from poor families that did whatever they could to keep the “shame” of what had happened to their children under wraps.

Many arrests and some penalisations later the case is still there in its harrowing aftermath. Many young victims, in need of psychological rehabilitation, grappling with their issues of self-confidence and vulnerability, wait for justice. The wait may never end.

Between 2014 and 2017, Kasur a city 31 miles from Lahore, has reported more than 720 cases of sexual abuse and violence towards children. According to Sahil, an organisation working for prevention of crimes against children, “… In 2017, a total of 129 cases of child assault were reported from Kasur alone. Of them, 34 were abductions, 23 rapes, 19 sodomy, 17 attempted rapes, six abduction and rapes, and four abduction and gang-rapes.”

Approximately, 11 cases of child abuse are reported daily in Pakistan. Many remain unreported.

In early 2017, there were 10 murders of minors aged five to 10 (all of them were raped and killed) in Kasur. All killings took place within a radius of 10 kilometres.

By the end of 2017, the number of girls raped rose to 11. Only one of them is alive.

On January 9, 2018, in Kasur, a corpse was found on a pile of garbage. It was the mutilated body of a girl who had been reported missing on January 5. Her medical examination revealed that the cause of death was strangulation. The post-mortem report also showed the following: “Visible marks of torture on the child’s face, congestion in her muscles, her tongue was badly bruised and injured as it was pressed between her teeth. The hyoid bone was fractured…that she might have been sexually assaulted; there was also evidence to suggest the child had been sodomised. There was mud, fecal matter and blood found on her body.” The initial report also confirmed that she might have been dead for two to four days before her body was dumped in trash, on a crowded street.

Her name was Zainab Amin. She was seven years old.

From social media to electronic media to international media, the news of her rape and murder spread across Pakistan, and led to an unprecedented eruption of shock, grief and, understandably, rage. After the Army Public School massacre of children in December 2014, this is probably the first time I’ve seen such a united show of emotion to an event that is unimaginable in its horror. Political leaders, top military officials, artistes, sportspersons, activists, journalists, students, celebrities, the privileged and the underprivileged, the sentiments are identical: justice must be done to Zainab.

anchor690_011418072907.jpgPakistan TV news anchor Kiran Naz did a live telecast with her young daughter sitting in her lap to highlight what she felt as a mother in the aftermath of the rape and murder of Zainab Amin.

A thorough, exhaustive investigation based on forensic testing of evidence and crime scenes, witness-questioning, and formation of airtight cases will reveal: what is happening in Kasur; what is behind rampant crimes against children; whether these cases are products of depravity of the worst kind, or there is a gang behind abduction, rape and killing of children; is this the work of a serial rapist and murderer; whether the perpetrators are working alone, or there is a link between them and the perpetrators of the 2015 sexual abuse videos; whether the 12 girls were victims of individual sexual depravity or dehumainsed tools of a sex racket involved in raping and killing children and video-taping the events in order to sell the videos in international underbellies of grisly sexual voyeurism and perversion.

As I write these lines, my mind keeps going to the image of the lifeless body of Zainab. What she must have gone through during her torture, rape and murder. The pain the other 11 victims suffered. The molestation hundreds of children suffer in Pakistan, and throughout the world. The abuse of those whose tragedy reach us. The rape of those who suffer and die without anyone knowing what happened to them. Abuse, molestation, rape. By family members, relatives, strangers. To me nothing is worse than the pain of a child. To me, nothing is a bigger tragedy than burying a child.

As the mother of a son almost 18, my priority was giving him all the love in the world and that included raising him without any physical or mental punishment, and keeping him so secure in his environment that he feels confident and safe wherever he is, with or without me, even today.

My son is a happy and kind person because of the life he has had. Most parents all over the world try to do exactly the same – keep their children safe from disease, hunger, cold, night-time monsters, daily obstacles, little fears, outside horrors. Not all of us succeed. We fail our children. Repeatedly. Individually. Collectively.

Abduction, torture, rape and murder of a child translate into humanity stooping to its lowest. It is the worst of crimes, and it is the worst of a society. It is a wake-up call to the apathetic soul of a nation.

Abduction of a child is a huge deal anywhere in the world, with the best resources of a country’s LEAs leaping into action to find the child. A missing child in Pakistan has become just another crime.


The world should be a safe place for children within and without their homes. Period. The emphasis should be on providing them a better life, but the safety of children should be a given. Why do we live in a world where we have to fight for the safety of children? Children, notwithstanding where they are, what they are doing, whoever they are with, chaperoned or alone, living in a mansion or sleeping on a sidewalk, studying at an elite school or working to earn a paltry wage, fair-skinned or dark, nicely dressed or in rags, must be safe. Whatever else is wrong with the world, children must be allowed to remain children: carefree, joyous, secure.But the world is the way it is, and before mindsets and attitudes alter at the very fundamental level, there are guidelines that must be followed. There must be laws that act as deterrents, immediate community and police attention to the disappearance of a child, thorough investigation to find the kidnapped child, and solving the case in the case of a murder, proper penalisation and sentencing, formation of a database to list all convicted and even alleged sexual criminals. Also needed are trauma centres with professional counsellors for survivor-rehabilitation.

Sex education must be mandatory in schools at the elementary level starting from parental advice at home. The distinction between good and bad touch, how not to interact with strangers when un-chaperoned, talking to parents if improperly touched by someone they know or a stranger, counselling when needed are all needed. Teach children that there is no shame in talking about an uncomfortable grope, or worse, abuse. Shame is only for perpetrators, not their victims, the survivors.

Media must be active in dispensation of information about awareness and prevention of child abuse. Safety of children is a collective responsibility, a chain of action and reaction: familial, communal, societal, and governmental. Being united, the formation of a safe world for children is a reality not a utopian concept. Act now.

Fundamentally, it is all about what you teach your children. It is about how patriarchal narratives are shaped to provide love and self-confidence to children instead of forcing females and children into submission. It is about teaching your children gender equality without ever using the words gender equality. It is about teaching your sons what not to do, not bending girls to learn how to be. It is about accepting the importance of religious – if you believe in any religion – and societal norms and using them to become better human beings.

It is about teaching your children the importance of empathy, of noticing unkindness, of reacting to an act of violence, even if it’s about hitting a sibling. It is about teaching children to be kind to one another, to those who are weaker, to animals, to the underprivileged. It is about teaching children to be responsive. It is about teaching children to be honest about telling you everything, even the unsavoury. It is about parents leading by example.

Kindness is the key. Empathy is a way of life. Pain, of self or others, is a catalyst. Apathy, individual or collective, is abetment. Notice, react, act.

Sexual abuse is violence, lessons in how not to be violent starts at home.

A decent, kind male, notwithstanding a hormonal stimulus or a sexual urge, in any situation, under any circumstances, on any pretext, because of any provocation, would not abuse, assault or rape a child or an adult. It is as simple as that. United with those males, beyond the abuse and the violence, the fight is still winnable if our focus is the same: make this world a beautiful place for our children. Starting now.


The Worrying Trend of Violent Crimes Against Children in Pakistan’s Kasur



While the rape and murder of a seven-year-old has brought the public to the streets, the law and order situation has been far from perfect in the past.

Members of civil society light candles and earthen lamps to condemn the rape and murder of 7-year-old girl Zainab Ansari in Kasur, during a candlelight vigil in Islamabad, Pakistan January 11, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood
Members of civil society light candles and earthen lamps to condemn the rape and murder of 7-year-old girl Zainab Ansari in Kasur, during a candlelight vigil in Islamabad, Pakistan January 11, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

Lahore: Kasur, the city of sufi saint Bulleh Shah, seems to have developed a notorious reputation over the past few years, especially regarding violent crime.

In the most recent incident, when the raped and mutilated body of seven-year-old Zainab Ansari was found ruthlessly thrown in a garbage dump, it seemed as if the public could not hold it in any longer.

Hit partly by the tragedy of the incident, which unravelled their anger and resentment at the local police, and also because Zainab belonged to the dominant Ansari clan of the city, mob violence broke out and people began pelting stones and breaking car windows. Vehicles were set on fire and things only worsened when the police opened fire on the protestors, killing two.

A history of violence

Kasur has been building up its aura of particularly gruesome crimes since November 2014, when two brick kiln labourers Shama and Shahzad Masih were accused of blasphemy and burnt alive by a mob. Then in 2015, a child pornography ring was exposed where minors of various ages belonging to one specific village were being forced by a gang to pose for porn. The ring was also found to be patronised by a local member of the Punjab assembly belonging the the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Though the member of provincial assembly was off the hook, the ring leader was nabbed and jailed, and eventually the issue faded away.

But the situation worsened after news of child murders surfaced once again, especially in 2017.

According to Sahil, a child rights organisation, in 2017, a total of 129 cases of child assault were reported from Kasur alone. Of these, 34 were abductions, 23 were rapes and four were abduction and gangrapes. In the last three years, a total of 720 incidents have been reported from Kasur. Zainab’s was the 12th such case that was reported within a two-km radius in the past year.

In 2015, 285 sexual abuse cases were those that were associated with the porn ring, but these were not all. There were 166 other child sexual abuse cases that same year. In 2016, there were a total of 141 cases reported from the city.

Mamtaz Gohar, senior programme coordinator at Sahil, says that there was also an increase in the number of murders that have taken place after child sexual assault. For example, in Kasur in 2015 and 2016, four children were found raped and murdered in both years, but in 2017 there were 11 such incidents. “And all these incidents are reported, which means there are so many more incidents either covered up or unreported,” he says. “The 2-3% increase is a worrying trend to see.”

But none of the other districts are exactly safe zones for children either. As the Zainab case shocked the nation, the body of 15-year-old Sajida – raped and murdered – was found in a field in the outskirts of Sargodha. The same week, a molested body of 11-year-old Shariq was also found in Kasur, in a field. In November 2017, ten-year-old Ali Raza had also been sexually assaulted and murdered in a similar way in the same police station’s jurisdiction. According to legal experts, while sexual abuse is common in several parts of the country, it is the criminal justice system which often either lets criminals go scot free, or the police investigation which ends up with a weak prosecution.

“The overall conviction rate in Pakistan is less than 10% when it comes to crimes,” says lawyer Ahmer Majid. “At the same time, we have no studies to determine whether it [the rising crime rate] is actually a rise in crime itself or the reporting of crimes.” He adds that most violent crimes occur in Punjab.

Child rights activist Iftikhar Mubarik, who has been urging the Punjab government to form a special Child Rights Commission which would look after all issues concerning the rights of children, agrees to these statistics, saying that Punjab’s rural areas have the highest reported crime incidents.

“The more urbanised a city is, the more disconnected the people living in a neighbourhood are with each other. But in a small town or a rural area, they would even know what’s being cooked for dinner in the other house. How can they cover up a crime then?” he asks.

Usually, a victim of child sexual abuse is familiar with the perpetrator, and because of this the matter is covered up and the incident treated as taboo. In cases of this kind, the matter never reaches court and is settled outside. But much of the problem lies with the police and their ineptitude – first during the crime scene investigation and the later during the follow-up investigation. As a result, the medico-legal officer hardly ever receives any forensic evidence to send to the chemical examiners, and therefore the prosecution is weakened.

Activists of Pakistani NGO PPA (Pakistan Pediatric Association Punjab) hold placards in a protest against child abuse in Lahore, Pakistan on 13 August, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Files
Activists of Pakistani NGO PPA (Pakistan Pediatric Association Punjab) hold placards in a protest against child abuse in Lahore, Pakistan on 13 August, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Files

Killing suspects

But what is perhaps another worrying trend is the way some prime suspects in child sexual abuse cases have been killed in police encounters. Around four months ago, one alleged rapist-killer was killed in an encounter in Bhalwal, Sargodha, while a second was killed on Wednesday night in Sheikhupura.

“Shahbaz Sharif has always been inclined towards police encounters,” says a lawyer, on the condition of anonymity. “But this new trend is not just raising moral questions – such as how do we even know the man was a proven rapist-killer – but encounters also raise the issue of the police showing its aggression. Are they trying to fool people by showing how quickly they have brought ‘justice’ to the forefront?”

Encounter or not, the public in Kasur lives with a mixture of fear and anger.

“If the police admits to a killer being at large since 2015, and it could not catch him, which was bad enough, why did it make no efforts to at least educate the public about the dangers? Could it not have at least done DNA sampling of the previous bodies?” the lawyer continued.

DNA samples taken from Zainab’s body point out that at she was raped least six times by the same man. The Lahore high court has given the police 36 hours to find the killer and reveal who he is.

Meanwhile, people are literally baying for blood.

“We want a public hanging to make an example of this man,” says one man.

Human rights activists disagree with this mob mentality.

“Today they will hang a rapist, tomorrow it could be anyone. There are laws out there and a legal procedure must be followed,” says Majid, who works on child abuse cases.

In the mean time, the presence of Rangers means the protests have been forcibly quelled. On the third day, a small rally started in the morning but backed off quickly seeing the Rangers’ vehicles.

“It’s not as if such a case has taken place for the first time,” says Mubarik. “But its intensity followed by the protests have jolted the nation, and now we are looking more consciously at the problem of child abuse.”

The chief minister of Punjab has promised many things in the aftermath of the murder, but many see these as only knee-jerk responses. “If we tackled the issue on a permanent basis, it would be automatic prevention of something else happening,” adds Mubarik. “But this is the way our government always reacts.”

But Dr Ali Madeeh Hashmi, a prominent psychiatrist in Lahore, sees a darker future. He questions why the girl was allowed to leave in the first place (Zainab had reportedly gone to attend Quran classes in the neighbourhood, after which when she was allegedly abducted. CCTV footage shows the girl walking with a stranger and holding his hand).

“These issues are intertwined with poverty and lack of education as well as placing too much trust in the people around them,” he says, adding that there seems to be “serious laxity of law”, too. “Everyone can’t just approach a child there (Quran classes) because serious checking is done.”

What Pakistan does need, Hashmi says, is a radical reorganisation of society along progressive lines – but that is a long-term plan. In the short term it’s a law and order situation, and with Kasur being a border town, it is extra sensitive so police must also be well trained, he says.

Hashmi adds that the ‘mentally ill’ and those who indulge in criminal acts are two different things and this differentiation is important. “All we know about the rapist-killer is speculation, but let me tell you, it is the so-called mentally fit people who commit more such crimes than the mentally ill. Labelling every offender mentally ill is further stigmatising those who suffer from real mental health issues.”

Xari Jalil is veteran journalist who reports from Karachi and Lahore. Her areas of interest include crime, society and art. She tweets at @xarijalil