Child abuse crimes in Punjab have reached alarming levels, with a recent confidential report from the home department revealing a troubling trend: more boys than girls are being subjected to sexual abuse. The report highlights the dire situation, indicating that 55 percent of the perpetrators on trial were neighbors of the victims, 32 percent were strangers, and 13 percent were relatives.
Data collected from field staff across Punjab indicates that the Rawalpindi region and Lahore city have reported the lowest incidence of child abuse compared to other divisions in the province. However, the report identifies several key factors that hinder efforts to control sexual crimes against children in Punjab.
According to the report, in the first five and a half months of this year, a total of 1,390 incidents of child abuse were reported in Punjab. Shockingly, 69 percent of the victims were boys, while 31 percent were girls.
The report further reveals that cases of child abuse are frequently filed in Punjab, with boys being more likely to report their experiences and complaints than girls. However, many cases still go unreported due to societal fears and cultural taboos surrounding the issue. The report also highlights the reluctance of parents to subject their children to medico-legal procedures, which acts as a deterrent to reporting abuse.
Lack of support from family members, friends, neighbors, and the wider community further isolates victims and makes them hesitant to share their experiences. Additionally, socio-economic stresses, unemployment, low self-confidence, feelings of incompetence, loneliness, and psychological unrest contribute to the prevalence of child abuse.
Regional data shows that Gujranwala region/division reported 220 incidents of child abuse, followed by DG Khan (199), Faisalabad (186), Multan (140), Bahawalpur (129), Sheikhupura (128), Sahiwal (127), and Sargodha (103). Rawalpindi region and Lahore city had the lowest numbers, with 69 and 89 cases, respectively.
The report emphasizes that child sexual abuse in Pakistan is influenced by various social factors, including patriarchal norms, power imbalances, poverty, illiteracy, and social inequalities, all of which contribute to the vulnerability of children. Victim-blaming attitudes and a lack of awareness about child rights further complicate efforts to address and prevent these crimes.
While Pakistan has enacted laws such as the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2016, the Prevention of Child Abuse Act of 2018, and the Zainab Alert, Response, and Recovery Act 2020 to combat child sexual abuse, effective implementation, enforcement, and coordination among relevant agencies are crucial to ensure justice for victims and punishment for perpetrators.
The report offers several recommendations to address the issue. It suggests that the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) should be more actively involved in protecting children from criminals, with a dedicated team of professionals, including child protection officers, psychologists, law officers, and doctors. It also emphasizes the need for a well-defined mechanism for coordination among different stakeholders, including police, parents, CPWBs, and other relevant federal and provincial agencies.
The report underscores the importance of sensitizing and building the capacity of stakeholders and staff in relevant agencies. Training programs should be initiated for professionals working with children, such as teachers, healthcare providers, law enforcement personnel, and social workers, to enhance their skills in identifying signs of abuse, responding sensitively, and providing appropriate support.
Furthermore, the report recommends effective coordination between all helplines at the provincial level, connecting the domestic violence helpline 1099 with the police department. It suggests developing a database of abducted/missing children for analysis and policy recommendations.
The report strongly advocates for the review of existing child protection laws by national and provincial legislatures and the establishment of special courts for child abuse cases. It calls for enhanced capacity and training for law enforcement agencies and the judicial system to handle such cases effectively. The role of the Ministry of Human Rights in addressing child abuse crimes should also be reviewed, with an emphasis on revamping the national child protection center to identify, prevent, and report incidents of child abuse.
Lastly, the report stresses the importance of holistic support services, including counseling, medical assistance, legal aid, and rehabilitation programs, to aid in the recovery and reintegration of child survivors and their families into society.