Cruel Numbers: Child Sexual Abuse Remains

Cruel Numbers: Child Sexual Abuse Remains
On 27 April, a teacher Sarang Shar who was accused of child sexual abuse was acquitted in the case of raping and filming of his students. Sarang was accused of sexual abuse in three FIRs. A video of Sarang performing sexual activity with a minor was rounding on social media, which triggered an aggressive debate about child safety. The nefarious act of sodomy is the worst form of abuse. The case of Sarang Shar is just the tip of the iceberg. Many Sarangs are roaming freely and enjoying impunity. The absence of accountability ensures the rampancy of a crime. Unfortunately, an NGO by the name of War against Rape discloses that the conviction rate in rape cases is between 3% to 5%. Sadly, child sexual abuse cases largely remain underreported due to the stigma attached.

In terms of data on child sexual abuse, an organisation Sahil is performing a matchless job. This organisation publishes an annual report under the title of "Cruel Numbers" that highlights the gravity of the issue. Muhammad Abdullah Avais, Hamida Narijo, and Mike Parker reviewed child sexual abuse in Pakistan based on data from the Sahil organisation. They have studied the cases of child sexual abuse from 2010 to 2016. The review suggests that the number of child abuse cases increased since 2010. The data shows that 2010 witnessed 2,252 incidents of sexual abuse and in 2016 the incidents skyrocketed to 4,139. In the majority of cases, girls were victims of sexual abuse. The organisation Sahil revealed that 3,852 children of whom 2,068 were girls and 1,784 boys went through sexual abuse in 2021. Furthermore, in another report by Sahil, 2,211 cases of child abuse were reported in the first half of 2022. Additionally, this report maintained that 12 children were sexually abused per day in the first half of 2022. The facts portray a grim picture of children's security in our country.

The issues of child sexual abuse are rife all over the country but the case of Sarang suggests specifically focusing on Sindh. Khushboo Rafiq and Sumair Abdullah conducted a study titled "Child Sexual Abuse- A Study of Laws in the System in Pakistan with special reference to Sindh." In this study, they took interviews of thirteen people who were part of the criminal justice system and who dealt with Child sexual abuse cases. The researchers have explored the reasons behind the acquittal in sexual abuse cases, and insufficient resources and hindrances in the way of criminal investigation. According to the researchers, the first reason for acquittal is social pressure on the victim's family. The mounting pressure on the minor's family forces it to settle the issue out of court. The second reason is the poor training of medical officers and investigating officers in collecting evidence. The participants of the interview protested that they do not have any knowledge and skills to collect evidence. The court decides the matter based on defective evidence and ineffective investigation. The third reason is a non-sensitive and uncooperative attitude at the police station. The afflicted families usually decide to take their cases back owing to the rude behavior of policemen. The fourth reason is a failure of coordination among various investigating departments. The investigation officer, medical officer, and child protection officers lack coordination, which results in an unusual delay in the resolution of the issue. The fifth reason is the feudal mentality and corruption in the criminal justice system. Feudals use their influence and money for ensuring the bail of the culprit. The sixth reason is the unavailability of data. The researchers found that federal and provincial governments do not have data related to child sexual abuse. The absence of data plagues the identification of the situation on the ground.

As far as deficiencies in resources and hindrances in the way of criminal investigation are concerned, researchers highlight some important points. The Sindh province has a shortage of DNA testing facilities. In 2020, the Sindh government allocated 100 million to setting up DNA labs for testing facilities. Two DNA facilities have been established; one is in Karachi and the second is in Jamshoro. More facilities are direly needed to cater to criminal inquiries. Furthermore, the limited number of female medical and investigation officers is another challenge. In most cases, girls become victims of sexual abuse and it is not appropriate and comfortable for the victims to cooperate with male officers. The absence of shelter homes for children in Sindh and improper collection of evidence are other important issues.

Bearing in mind the above-mentioned study, it would be safe to infer that our criminal justice system is flawed and full of deficiencies. This study further educates readers about the poor priorities of the ruling elite in Sindh.

Child safety is at stake but the political commitment to protect the future is not in sight. Political commitment is a prerequisite for any progress in the direction of child safety. Furthermore, the coordination between the criminal justice system's components, training of investigation officers, Provision of DNA facilities, and effective evidence collection are direly needed to stem the tide of child abuse.