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