Widespread Child Sexual Abuse Case Rocks Pakistan
HUSSAIN KHAN WALA, Pakistan — Pakistani officials have initiated an investigation into allegations that a gang of men sexually abused more than 200 children and sold videos of the abuse.
The accusations have rocked the country, drawing the attention and condemnation of human rights activists and politicians in a case that involved subjects long considered taboo here.
At least 280 children under the age of 14 from three villages in eastern Punjab Province were said to have been subjected to sexual abuse by a gang of 15 men, who made videos to extort money from the children and their parents. Seven of the accused have been arrested, police officials said Sunday.
The accusations of abuse started trickling out last month as victims began to report it to the police, and last Tuesday, hundreds of residents staged a protest, accusing the police and local politicians of protecting the gang members and ignoring the accusations. Some of the protesters clashed with the police, and dozens of people were injured, including several police officers.
On Saturday, details of the abuse were carried by The Nation, a Lahore-based English-language newspaper, which reported that the gang members had drugged and intoxicated their victims, some as young as 6, and had recorded hundreds of videos. Some of the children stole jewelry and money from their parents to pay the men to stop them from making the videos public, according to the reports. The newspaper said many of the videos were sold to buyers and pornographic websites overseas.
The coverage prompted an outpouring of outrage on social media, especially on Twitter.
Pedophilia remains a taboo subject in Pakistani society. Human rights activists say that child abuse is rampant in the country and that homeless children, as many as 1.5 million according to some estimates, are particularly vulnerable.
However, provincial officials in Punjab played down the scale of the abuse and said that only seven cases had been registered by the police so far and that they were in possession of only 30 videos.
Most of the victims and gang members are from Hussain Khan Wala, a dusty farming village in the Kasur District of Punjab Province, near the border with India and about an hour’s drive from Lahore, the provincial capital.
“This group was active since 2007 when they were school students,” Shahzad Sultan, a senior police official said in an interview on Sunday, referring to the suspects. He said most of the videos involved consensual sex between teenagers.
Local police officials say the allegations became public only after a land dispute arose between two rival groups in the village. Mr. Sultan said that the videos of consensual sex were being used now as part of an effort by one party in the dispute to discredit or intimidate members of the other group with accusations of child abuse. “The videos are old,” he said.
The man identified as the main suspect, Haseem Amir, said in an interview that his uncle had bought the land under dispute now and that members of another family who opposed the sale were now accusing him and his friends of child abuse.
The seven suspects who were arrested are ages 16 to 25. Mr. Amir, 25, denied that he was involved in blackmail and extortion. “We made some mistakes while we were teenagers in school,” he said, alluding to the sex videos. “We used to record videos and share with one another just for fun.”
But Muhammad Ashraf, the father of one of the accusers, who filed a complaint to the police on Sunday, said his son, 20, was abused as a student five years ago, but did not tell the family at the time.
After video clips surfaced about two months ago, “we came to know about it,” Mr. Ashraf said.
“My son was disturbed and sad,” Mr. Ashraf said. “He asked us to lodge the case. He used to steal money and some valuables, and says he used to give it to the blackmailers.”
In one video, a boy is seen crying after he is sexually abused, and tries to cover his face with a hand to hide from the camera. In another video, a man orders a boy to smile as he films him while the boy is abused.
A senior police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of offending local sensibilities, said the case involved a “mixture of social deviants” and behaviors that reflected changes in Pakistani society. “Such acts of teenage homosexuality are becoming common practice,” the officer said.
Opposition politicians said over the weekend that they planned to take up the issue of child abuse in Parliament on Monday. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/10/world/asia/widespread-child-sex-abuse-case-rocks-pakistan.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0)
The scandal that shocked Pakistan: kids raped, filmed and blackmailed
Around 400 porn videos recovered
Over 280 children under 14 years of age sexually exploited
Victims forced to abuse each other
Cases of children being injected in their spines with unknown substances
Buyers and sellers
Thousands of copies of videos already sold for 50 rupees each
The gang responsible also extorted money from victim's families
Videos have found an international market amongst pedophiles
Reports say the child abuse and filming began way back in 2009
A large child pornography racket has been busted in the town of Kasur, very near Pakistan's border with India. The sordid details of the racket has shocked Pakistani society.
About 400 pornographic videos have been recovered, which show more than 280 children, mostly under 14, being sexually exploited. In one clip, a six-year-old boy is portrayed performing a sexual act, while another shows the molestation of a 10-year-old girl in her school uniform by a 14-year-old.
In some of the clips, victims are forced to abuse other victims. It is apparent from the videos that they were shot in village fields, bathrooms, and deserted houses.
"This is the biggest ever child abuse scandal in the country," said Saba Sadiq, head of the Child Protection Bureau.
Thousands of copies of the videos have already been sold, at 50 rupees each. According to the parents of some of the victims, the gang also sold the videos to pedophiles abroad for large sums of money. The villagers said that the gang also extorted millions by blackmailing the victims' families. Apparently, many families were forced to sell their valuables to meet the blackmailers' demands.
This has been going on since 2009.
"Our children were threatened and asked to name more children. We kept quiet because of the constant fear they instilled in us," a villager said.
Din Muhammad (name changed), a victim's father, said "My son told me he was injected with something in his back (spine), and was taken away to a deserted field. He was molested by five or six men and a video of the entire act was made."
Most of the abusers were in their teens but were reportedly backed by two men in their 40s, say police sources. The villagers accuse the police of protecting the criminals. But the police claim they could not take any action because no complainant came forward.
The police response
"We cannot raid without any complaints," says Rai Babar Saeed, District Police Officer (DPO) of Kasur,.
"I would also like to clarify that the number of victims being floated around, is based on hearsay. There were about 25 to 30 victims. The period of abuse, in some cases, was about seven years. Most of the victims were boys 10 to 14 years of age," he said
The DPO further added that the incidents took place from 2009 to 2013, but the complainants came forward only now.
"Only seven families have filed complaints. But if there are others, we invite them to come and tell us. The police will take strict action."
He said that six of the 11 main accused were arrested and under police remand.
In many videos, children are forced to abuse children. Thousands of videos have been sold, at 50 rupees each
The villagers also accuse the police of remaining silent because of political pressure. However, even they didn't say anything for three years, perhaps out of fear for their lives and also their reputations.
Investigators say that some people gathered courage only after certain parties with their own vested political interests backed them and urged them to file complaints. The police also assert that many individuals were being named only because the powerful people backing the villagers wanted them out of the way.
If DPO Babar is to be believed, there is another twist to the tale. According to him, one of the reasons why the issue was suddenly resurrected, was a dispute over 19 acres of land.
"I am not denying that the incidents took place. It is a very serious crime. However only seven videos are authentic while 50 to 60 clips have been downloaded from the internet," he said.
He attributes it to an old feud between Master Zafar and Sheerazi groups at Hussainwala village in Kasur district. Five members of the Sheerazi group are under arrest while one was out on bail. The case could be the Master Zafar group's ploy to put pressure on their rivals in order to grab the land.
What experts say
According to child rights' activist Iftikhar Mubarik, many such cases must be getting brushed under the carpet. "Obviously the incidents happened over a span of two or three years. But the fact that no one from the local administration or the police took notice, speaks volumes about what is happening," he said.
Criminologist Dr Fateh Burfat believes that gangs like these continue to operate with impunity because they have powerful backers.
"The disturbing reality is that there is a global market for such videos. As the market expands, such rackets become more and more entrenched," he said.
"Child pornography and forced abuse has devastating physical, social and psychological effects on children. How can a society turn away from its most vulnerable section?" Burfat asked.