Pakistan has countless Zainabs. By Nasir Saeed


The recent rape and murder of 7-year-old Zainab Ansari in Kasur, has resulted in anger and grief throughout Pakistan. The girl reportedly went missing on January 4 when she left home but never returned.
Her body was found on a rubbish pile five day after her disappearance. The initial post-mortem examination report confirmed she had been raped multiple times. The most serious case of violence against children ever reported in the country came to light on August 8, 2015, and it involved 284 children, aged six to 14. 25 adults were arrested on charges of making 400 videos, used to blackmail the children’s families.
Kasur is perceived to be the centre for child sexual abuse since 2014 and 2015. 2015 saw the most such incidents recorded, with a total of 451 cases of child abuse registered in the area. In 2017, a total of 1,764 cases of child abuse were reported from across the country in the first six months, and a total of 129 cases of child assault were reported from Kasur alone.
Although this was highlighted in the media, there had been a long silence from all quarters until the recent news of Zainab has shaken us. This is a record number of reported cases, but the actual number of child abuse cases could be much high than what we have been told.
Although we have a record of child abuse cases, there is no such record available of how many culprits have been arrested, how many families got justice and if any measures were taken to prevent such cases or at least reduce this number.
Usually, people hesitate to report such abuses to the police or in the media for several reasons, like lack of awareness, lack of communication between parents and child, lack of education, to avoid shame and embarrassment in the society, lack of confidence in the police and law enforcement, as in Zainab’s case.
The victim’s father had requested Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa instead of the president of Pakistan, Prime Minister, police or any other civil institution’s head to provide him justice. This is something serious and the civil government and institutions need to do more to restore public trust.
In its concluding observations on Pakistan from 2016, the Committee on CRC expressed its concern about the large number of children falling victim to sexual abuse, exploitation, rape and abduction, reports of children being exploited for the purpose of child prostitution and the lack of effective measures taken by the government
The Supreme Court has taken the suo moto notice while the High Court’s 36-hour deadline has already passed and there has been no progress in the case. Inspector General, (IG) Punjab Arif Nawaz admitted on Sunday that there is no breakthrough, but he hoped that the culprits would be apprehend soon.
At least four agencies — the Intelligence Bureau, the Special Branch, Counter Terrorism Department, and the Punjab Forensic Science Agency are working on this case and have arrested several suspects but no one has a clue about the real culprits.
Although all the country’s institutions are focused on Zainab’s case, and its best available resources are being used to arrest her killers, her father has already expressed his dissatisfaction.
Zainab’s father has also appealed for those who were arrested for protesting after her death to be released.
This is another concern, that our state only takes action when the public comes out onto the streets and is forced to take the law into their own hands. This can be avoided if the state discharges its duty truthfully and timely, and if the law and policies made by the government are implemented accordingly and everyone is treated equally.
Our Institutions and politicians have failed to protect its citizens’ human rights which are necessary for the security, equality and to live with respect and dignity.
This is a grave violation of human rights and it is a part of a systematic violations that have continued against young girls in Pakistan for long. As per international reports, Pakistan is ranked as the 4th most dangerous country in the world for women and the 38th country with the lowest respect for the rights of children.
Pakistan ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990 and is under obligation to implement its provisions by harmonising policies, legislation, programmes, and plans of action with it and report progress to the UN committee on CRC, after every five years.
In its concluding observations on Pakistan from 2016, the Committee on CRC expressed its concern on the large number of children falling victim to sexual abuse, exploitation, rape and abduction, reports of children being exploited for the purpose of child prostitution and child pornography and the lack of effective measures taken by the government to prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation, prosecute perpetrators and provide justice to the victims, who are often stigmatised by the society.
The committee urged the Pakistani government to adopt laws with clear and explicit definitions and punishments for child sexual abuse and exploitation, and also put a strong emphasis on establishing an effective monitoring system for reporting cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation accompanied with thorough investigation and proper prosecution of perpetrators.
The convention obliges states parties to undertake all appropriate measures to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
In the report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 60/231, it is emphasised a particular problem that ‘rape or other forms of sexual violence can lead to ostracism, further violence, or death.
It is worrying that Pakistan is not a state party to the Optional Protocol to the CRC. The protocol is an important tool which increases protection of children from different forms of violence and provides a remedy for the violation. The committee is also able to launch investigations into grave or systematic violations of children’s rights and states are able to bring complaints against each other, if they accepted this procedure, but I don’t think our government will ever ratify the optional protocol on CRC.
Looking at the ongoing situation of Zainab’s case, I am hopeful that she will get justice sooner or later. But what about the other victims of child abuse. Will they ever get justice? What about the minority victims of forced conversion? This is something which is normally condoned by our society and even hailed by some factions.
It is not just a failure of the state in cases of rape of minor girls or forced conversion of the minorities’ minor girls, but as a society we cannot exempt ourselves. We have a collective responsibility as a society to protect our children without distinction of religion. I hope Zainab’s case is not going to be just another case, but that it prompts the state to introduce reforms where needed.
The writer is a freelance columnist
Courtesy: Daily Times, January 17th 2018.

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