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  • Oct 31, 2014
  • Updated: 6:07pm

Horror of child abuse finally out in the open in Muslim Pakistan

Stream of sexual attacks make headline news in a traditional Muslim nation that is being forced to open its eyes to heinous crimes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 4:29am

In a rural village in Pakistan's eastern rice belt, two teenage sisters left for school one recent day on a muddy village path far too narrow for cars.

Within hours, they were dead, their bodies left facedown along a swampy canal after they had been raped and shot multiple times. By the next morning, their deaths were news across Pakistan, the latest in a grisly stream of sexual attacks on minors.

"People are now reporting things, and people are now seeing children are suffering heinous, horrible crimes
Narjis Zaidi, human rights advocate

"They were identified by their clothes," Muhammad Nazir, the victims' uncle, said. "All we know for sure: They went from their house to school, and they were murdered."

For generations, rape was a taboo subject in this conservative Muslim society. Just a decade ago, the news about the sisters might never have travelled beyond their rural area.

But thanks to a freer media and a push by child-welfare advocates to get families to report such crimes, the number of cases under investigation is rising, as is the outrage of parents, the public and advocacy groups.

"People are now reporting things, and people are now seeing children are suffering heinous, horrible crimes," said Narjis Zaidi, a human rights advocate in Islamabad.

On the same day in late September that the sisters were killed on the outskirts of Gujranwala, the body of a 13-year-old girl was found on a Karachi beach after she had been raped and killed on the way to school.

A week earlier, a five-year-old girl was raped multiple times after being kidnapped. She was then dumped outside a hospital in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city.

And on a single day - September 20 - Pakistan's Express Tribune reported on the alleged rape of a four-year-old boy by his school principal in Faisalabad, and the rapes of another boy, also four, and a 14-year-old girl. The teenager had been gang-raped by four men over two days.

Each case has brought new waves of angry mothers besieging police stations demanding public executions. In Karachi, after the rape of the five-year-old in Lahore, schoolgirls paraded with signs displaying a noose. In Pakistan's culturally conservative northwest, female lawmakers attempted to block roads in Peshawar to protest the crime.

"This country has gone to the dogs," said Shazia Shaheen, coordinator for the Mumkin Alliance, a Pakistan-based coalition of organisations that advocate for battered women.

Activists and government leaders note that sexual violence is hardly unique to Pakistan, citing widespread abuses across much of the Middle East and South Asia, including the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old New Delhi student in December that shocked India.

What makes the reports in Pakistan especially notable is that they have emerged at all, reflecting a broader awareness by victims and the news media.

Activists say the media attention can be credited in part to the opening of several dozen private television news stations after the government's monopoly on electronic media ended in 2002. That has led to more aggressive coverage of topics previously ignored.

Several rape cases have been well publicised in recent years, including that of Mukhtar Mai, who made international headlines after she spoke out about being gang-raped in 2002 on orders from village elders. The convictions of all but one of six men charged in connection with the case were overturned.

In Punjab, Pakistan's most-populous province, there was extensive coverage in 2010 and 2011 of a serial rapist who attacked eight children, leaving some of them dead, said Muhammad Imtiaz Ahmed, of Pakistan's Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.

"After that, the media, the police, educationally, all started talking about how we need to do a better job of protecting children," he said.

In Gujranwala, where the sisters' blood still stains the grass, the local police commander said he was under pressure to make an arrest. "With the media attention and pressure from higher authorities, we have to do our job," Zubar Warriach said.


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This article is now closed to comments

I don't advocate the death penalty to deal with these crimes, as it teaches absolutely nothing. It doesn't provide an adequate deterrent, and other than giving vengeance for the parents it's hardly effective in the long term.
Still, any ideal fix for this situation is going to be hampered by the fact that much of the country is run under an extreme branch of Islam. So long as women, let alone young girls, are still considered inferior to men among muslim populations, there's going to be opposition to any act that could help them get easier justice against rapists.
The death penalty is never the answer, it is a superficial easy option which negates the need for further thought. It cannot be reversed in the case of a miscarriage of justice. Horrible as these crimes are they can only hopefully be prevented by transforming the culture from which they emerge (teaching respect and tolerance for others). Unfortunately, like war and the death penalty, there will probably always be such things. The idea that the death penalty somehow reduces such crimes is wrong-headed. People who commit such crimes do not think about the consequences. As a parent I can understand that I would most probably want to kill anyone who did such a thing to one of my children. But the state taking life is a different matter altogether.
Javed Mir
--sexual attacks on minors--.
Death penalty is the only solution to stop these brutalities.
How do you guarantee that there will not be injustice, such as the execution of the wrong person? Life sentences without parole is the best solution.
Mind you, many rapists will still get away, for is it not a fact that in Pakistan (and many Muslim countries) that for a female to claim rape she needs to have four male witnesses? Otherwise she might be charge fo adultery?
Relji Joseph
This is why death penalty should be imposed in such cases, but the judge should be sensible and righteous to use the sentence in the rarest of the rarest case where he can be of sure there is no question without doubt regarding the accused. As of now for rape cases there is no death penalty in the maximum punishment, what many are advocating is that it should be added to the list of maximum punishment to be imposed so the judge has the option.


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