The “child-abuse” or “child porn” case (as billed by some newspapers) in Hussain Khan Wala village in Kasur district of Punjab has outraged everyone. Anyone who has seen videos of the criminal brutalization of children cannot but be shocked and angry. Understandably, there is a public outcry for swift and ruthless accountability of those who criminally abused children and blackmailed their families for extortion. Questions have arisen about the extent of child-abuse, number of criminals in the gang, their social and political outreach, and the role of the local police in ignoring the crime from 2008-12 and then trying to put a lid on it.

The fact that sexual abuse of minors is widely prevalent and deeply rooted has rarely been exposed in the media or combated in law. Nor has the police ever been trained or educated to respond to cases of child abuse, rape, domestic violence, honour killings, harassment of women and minorities, etc., in the same urgent manner in which cases of law and order, murder and theft are dealt with routinely.

The facts of the Kasur case have been distorted in the heat and dust kicked up by vested interests. The accusers feeding the media say hundreds of children have been brutalized. The police say the evidence in hand (video identification and volunteer admissions) so far points to a gang of about 22 criminals and 30 or so victim-children. Obviously, however, there must be many families who are not yet ready to admit being dishonoured and blackmailed.

The Punjab government has set up a Joint Investigation Team comprising police and Intel officials after the Lahore High Court refused to sanction a judicial commission. But this inquiry will not cut ice with the public. The local mood was evident when the IGP Punjab waded into the village with reassurances and was all but physically manhandled by the crowd. The CM has suspended junior and senior police officials for negligence and lack of serious purpose in addressing the complaints when they were first aired. This too is not likely to cool the simmering resentment and anger. The case has now been referred to a speedy anti-terrorist court and more arrests are in the offing. The government’s initial tepid response was much the same as the police’s – “yes, some miscreants have been up to no good, the local police is dealing with them, but the case is being blown out of proportion by some vested interests and the media as usual”. This was like sprinkling salt on an open societal gash.

There are other troubling “facts” that have been largely ignored in the outburst of collective rage but may shed some light on the vested interests of the main actors. How come this case has erupted now when the criminal practice of video-taping and blackmailing of victims in this village is at least seven years old? How come some of the accused are small time government servants who recently “won” an auction of a plot of 94 kanals of government land that was hitherto communal land? How come the Jamaat-e-Islami cadres in the area under the banner of a radical religious youth organization and PTI activists out to score points against the PMLN government have played a central role in whipping up passions and giving sensational briefings to the media?

According to SAHIL, an NGO researching child sexual abuse in Pakistan, there were over 3500 reported child abuse cases in 2014 (over 2000 from Punjab, followed by over 800 in Sindh) or 10 children were abused every day of the year, an increase of 17 per cent over the previous year. Of these, over 1200 cases related to rape/sodomy or gang rape/gang sodomy and 142 children were actually murdered after being physically violated. Among the victims, a majority of over 2000 were girls. Among the 6500 accused sexual assaulters, a majority were family, friends and acquaintances. Nearly 70% of the cases were reported in the rural areas. Police apathy was reflected in the fact that, despite being reported, the police only registered 70 per cent of the complaints/incidents. God alone knows how many parents did not report sexual abuse of their children because it would dishonor the family.

Clearly, child sexual abuse is widespread in society. But society and its public representatives have been loath to subscribe to civil and legal norms to combat it in Pakistan, unlike in the West where its pernicious outcrop is subject to strong deterrent laws and societal awareness and resistance.

Child sexual abuse, like violent persecution of minorities, oppression and exploitation of women and rape, must be suitably addressed if we are to be a civilized state. Will the Kasur incident spur appropriate legislation, police education and societal activism? Or, after the recent outrage has inevitably subsided, will child sexual abuse be relegated to the same dustbin where other societal criminal activities languish like child marriage, rape, honour killings and violence against minorities?

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.