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20 Jan 2018 2:20
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  •   Home > News > Law and Order

    Zainab Ansari's rape and murder is only part of the story — Pakistan has a child protection problem

    The seven-year-old's tragic death in Pakistan has left dozens of questions. But it's not the first time shocking sex crimes against children have rocked the region and experts have no confidence it will be the last.

    Zainab Ansari's tragic death has left dozens of questions for Pakistan's law enforcement agencies, human rights watchdogs and society at large to answer.

    Last week, seven-year-old Zainab was on her way home from lessons on the Koran at a tuition centre when she was kidnapped.

    Her body was recovered from a trash heap five days after she went missing. A post-mortem examination suggests she was raped and sodomised before being strangled to death.

    She was buried on Thursday at her ancestral graveyard in Road Kot leaving the entire district Kasur in deep shock and mourning her death.

    However, this is only part of the story.

    Zainab was the twelfth girl. Eleven cases of a similar nature were recorded in the same neighbourhood during the past year.

    Eman Fatma, 4; Fauzia, 11; Noor Fatma, 7; Ayesha Asif, 5; Laiba, 9; Sana Omar, 7; and Kainat Batool, 8, were among the victims, according to Zainab's neighbour Ahsan Aziz.

    Anger on the streets

    Zainab's uncle Amir Ul Hassan told the ABC the family wants justice.

    "We want the killer alive," he said.

    "We want him publicly stoned to death."

    Her death triggered violent demonstrations at a dozen points across the city. Residents flooded onto the streets, chanting: "We want the perpetrators brought to justice."

    The city remained tense for the second day. An angry mob went on a rampage, damaging the house of a member of the provincial assembly and setting a couple of vehicles on fire.

    Traders and shops closed early to show solidarity with the bereaved family.

    The demonstrations turned violent when two more people were killed in a police shootout.

    "This is how justice is provided to the justice seekers," Lahore child rights activist Iftikhar Mubarak said.

    "We will keep searching for justice, no matter what may come".

    'Incident after incident'

    The current spate of murders is not the first time the Kasur district has made international headlines for sex crime.

    In 2015, hundreds of teenage boys weremolestedand filmed by a gang in Hussain Khanwala, a neighbourhood 10 kilometres north of Zainab's village. The gang produced some 280 videos, sent to families of the victims to blackmail them.

    The Government started an investigation, ordered inquiries and issued a number of press statements calling for the perpetrators to be charged.

    However, the perpetrators were arrested only to be released later.

    The families of the victims are still demanding justice for their children.

    Shehbaz Sharif, a younger brother of the former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, is Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan's largest province.

    Journalist Mustafa Mughal Kasuri, who has been covering the area for more than a decade now, is critical of the Government's role in failing to prevent these crimes.

    "The Chief Minister only takes notice, not action," he said.

    "Had he taken any action on time, we would not have seen incident after incident."

    Eleven children abused each day

    Last year the total number of reported child abuse cases in Pakistan stood at a staggering 4,139.

    Eleven children are sexually abused every day in Pakistan, according to a survey conducted by child protection organisation Sahil, though it is thought many more go unreported.

    Punjab remained on top of the list with 62 per cent of the total cases followed by Sindh province, where 27 per cent of cases of sexual abuse were recorded, the report says.

    "The dead body of a seven-year-old child lying in a dumpster for days is a question mark on the laws and their implementation," Peshawar-based child rights activist Imran Takkar said.

    Children let down by the system

    Despite the alarming situation, the overall state of child protection infrastructure has never been a priority for the Government.

    The National Commission on Human Rights has said Zainab's murder is an example of the ineptitude of the authorities, which have failed to address the issue in an appropriate manner to curb its recurrence.

    The commission gave solid recommendations in a report handed to the district administration after the Kasur scandal in 2015, however no concrete steps were taken.

    Pakistan is a party to various international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Pornography, which means it must legislate in accordance with these treaties.

    But only two of the country's provinces — Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh — have suitable child protection legislation.

    Punjab's Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 has a limited role that cannot do anything for sexually abused children and its government is yet to approve the long-awaited Punjab Child Protection Policy 2006.

    Five other regions have no child protection-specific legislation at all.

    There is a list of reasons for the failure to legislate, according to activist Iftikhar Mubarak.

    "We lack a policy document, a plan of action, a proper mechanism and strategies on the implementation front," he says.

    The next steps

    Those keeping an eye on child rights issues believe there is a dire need for widespread awareness of child-related laws among the police, the judiciary and lawyers.

    There is also a push to create awareness of how to protect oneself from sexual abuse.

    This should be part of the school curriculum in a culturally sensitive manner, some experts argue.

    Culturally and religiously appropriate material on the subject can be produced.

    To that end, engaging with the religious clergy is of immense importance.

    Others advocate for an enhanced role for the media.

    "Media can play a vital role in fostering coordination with civil society and the Government to create widespread awareness," said Haroon Rashid, editor of BBC Pakistan in Islamabad.

    "Youth and children-focused media channels are one of the important tools to educate on the subject matter."

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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