It is exceedingly rare for a report from any government department to grip the attention of the average reader and compel them to read from beginning to end. The report by the Federal Ombudsman on the events that followed the Kasur case of multiple instances of child sexual abuse in a relatively small geographic location is one such. It is a damning catalogue of failure at every level across every agency and government department, as well as offering evidence of institutional collusion at the concealment of cases of child sexual abuse and the protection of the perpetrators thereof. The report is couched in language that will be understood by the average reader of English in Pakistan. An Urdu transcript would be welcomed.
Far from being the watershed that many hoped for the Kasur case are revealed more like a full stop, a waymarker at best, rather than a galvanic event that produces a sustainable systemic change in a system that is heavily weighted in favour of the perpetrator rather than the victim. Analysis of the underlying reasons for the abuse of children reads across to most countries and cultures, and there is no country or culture where the phenomenon does not exist, though there are places/countries where the incidence appears higher than the global norms.
Pakistan is no different to just about everywhere else. Easy access to pornography, skewed psychosexual relations and understanding, prostitution including the prostitution of minors, family structures resistant to investigation that close ranks around family members, dysfunctional justice systems and lax or absent enforcement of legislation.
All of the above and more are present says the Ombudsman report, and it would be a considerable folly to imagine that Kasur is somehow an isolated incident, unrepresentative of the country and culture more generally. Kasur is at the extreme end of the spectrum but children are sexually abused everywhere in the country, child prostitution is present and visible – the Pir Wadhai bus stand to be a notorious and long-standing example and highlighted in a Save the Children report ten years ago – and child pornography is widely available via innumerable DVD outlets nationwide. An evil genie is out of a bottle that was never securely stoppered in the first place.
The Ombudsman report finds little evidence that the authorities and agencies responsible for detecting the abuse of children, in particular law enforcement agencies, are moving with any urgency. Perpetrators use political or tribal influence to bribe or influence them and politicians have pressured LEA’s to drop cases involving their constituents leading to what amounts to an instiututionalisation of child sexual abuse that is highly resistant to change in the status quo. The victims themselves get double suffering – with they and their parents pressurised to drop cases. It can be reasonably assumed that similar or identical circumstances exist everywhere to a greater or lesser degree.
There is a national failure to protect a national asset – the children of Pakistan. This is truly an emergency and like so many of the uncomfortable emergencies that exist from child marriage to the increasing prevalence of elder abuse it is under the radar, under the carpet and under everything but close scrutiny by those whose job it is to protect children. In all likelihood the Ombudsman report will sink without trace within hours, days at most. There is no political mileage or votes for any of the mainstream political parties to take benefit from, and none have the spine to come out upfront and highlight this most pernicious of social ills. It is strongly rumoured that Pakistan is a hub for the production and distribution of child pornography internationally, a shameful claim to ignominy. Plaudits to the office of the Federal Ombudsman for a job well done, and eternal shame on those who will retreat back to the shadows once the brief light of exposure is dimmed.