What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse and is the act of forcing or enticing a child to engage in sexual activity. The abuse can include both physical contact and non-contact acts, such as involving children in watching or distributing pornography, or using children to produce child pornography.
Types of Child Sexual Abuse
This type of abuse can be physical, psychological, or emotional. It may include fondling, intercourse, and oral sex. Types also include rape, incest, sodomy, molestation, and it may also involve the production, distribution and viewing of child pornography.
Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse in Pakistan
Child sexual abuse is a widespread problem in Pakistan. According to Sahil (a non-governmental organisation working for the protection of children), a total of 4,253 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2022 in Pakistan.
These child sexual abuse cases were reported from all four provinces of Pakistan, including Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).
The data shows that there are cases of child sexual abuse, abductions, missing children and child marriages. Based on the statistics, the number of abused children in Pakistan is estimated to be more than 12 per day. The breakdown by gender shows that of the total reported cases of child abuse, 2,325 victims were girls (55%) and 1,928 (45%) were boys.
The report shows that child sexual abuse cases have increased by more than 33% compared to 2021.
The data showed that in the list of perpetrators of child sexual abuse, the most common were the acquaintances and family members of the victim. Sahil also found that out of the total 4,253 cases, the perpetrators were acquaintances or relatives of the victims in 1,864 cases. In 786 cases, it was strangers who committed the abuse.
In 2022, the reported cases of sexual abuse fell under the main categories of abduction (1,656 children), rape (422 children), sodomy (537 children), gang rape (75 children), gang sodomy (156 children).
There were a total of 2,123 cases of child sexual abuse, with both boys and girls equally affected. The total number of cases of homicide following sexual abuse was reported as 81. There were also 1,834 reported abduction cases, of which 178 were sexual abuse following abduction.
Among the numerous incidents, there was one case in which five boys and as many girls were murdered following gang sodomy and rape. In addition, 39 boys and 29 girls were murdered in 2022 after being sexually abused.
According to the data, a total of 428 cases of missing children were reported. In child marriages, 46 cases were reported, including 45 cases of girls and one of a boy. Three cases of vani (forced child marriage as punishment) were also reported.
According to the data, children aged six to 15 years were the most vulnerable to child sexual abuse, with more male than female victims reported. In addition, children up to five years of age were also sexually abused. There were 1,405 cases where the age of the victim had not been reported.
The geographical distribution of the data showed that of the total 4,253 cases, most were reported in Punjab. However, cases of child abuse were also reported in all other provinces. Of the total, 2,271 cases (53%) were reported in urban areas, while 1,982 cases (47%) occurred in rural areas. According to the report, 89% of the total reported cases were registered with the police.
A total of 546 children were abused in their own homes, 833 in the perpetrator’s house, 24 children in a haveli, 55 children in a madrassa, 29 children at workplaces and 713 children in open places such as fields, roads, graveyards, canals and forests.
Impact of Sexual Abuse on Children
Sexual abuse has a significant impact on the development of children and young people. It can have long-term consequences that reach far into adulthood. It can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and eating disorders, which in turn can lead to substance abuse, risk-taking behaviour and self-harm.
Profile of an Abuser
Child sexual abuse is usually committed by someone the child knows and trusts: a caregiver, a relative, neighbour or someone in a position of authority such as a teacher or tutor. The abuser may use force or coercion to engage in sexual activity with the child. Sahil also found that out of the total 4,253 cases reported in year 2022, the perpetrators were acquaintances or relatives of the victims in 1,864 cases.
International Treaties dealing with Child Sexual Abuse
Convention on the Rights of Child
This treaty sets out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of children and requires states to take measures to protect children from all forms of sexual abuse. Articles 19 and 34 are especially important for protecting children and adolescents from sexual violence. Article 19 governs the obligation of countries to protect children from all forms of violence, which includes sexual violence. Under Article 34 of the CRC, countries must explicitly commit to protecting children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. The CRC has been broadened by the addition of three more protocols in the meantime. The second of these protocols govern other rights of children, which concern the selling of children, child prostitution and depictions of abuse, i.e. so-called child pornography.
Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography is a treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. It aims to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse by criminalizing the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography.
The protocol requires states that ratify it to prohibit the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, and to criminalize these acts both domestically and internationally. It also obliges states to protect child victims and provide them with assistance and support, such as medical care, psychological support, and social reintegration services.
Additionally, the protocol mandates that states take measures to prevent the production and dissemination of child pornography, and to ensure that those who commit these crimes are punished accordingly. It also requires states to cooperate with each other in investigating and prosecuting cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Pakistan ratified the OPSC in 2011 and is thus obliged to report on progress to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva every five years. By ratifying this protocol, Pakistan has made a commitment to strengthening its efforts to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse, and to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable.
International Labour Organization Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (No. 182)
ILO Convention No. 182, which addresses the worst forms of child labour, recognises sexual exploitation as one of the worst forms of child labour and provides a framework for dealing with this problem. It obliges states to take measures to prevent and eliminate the sexual exploitation of children, prosecute perpetrators, provide support to victims and emphasise the importance of education in preventing this form of abuse.
Pakistan’s Legal Framework dealing with Sexual Abuse of Children
Pakistan Penal Code, 1860
The Pakistan Penal Code 1860, is a criminal code, has specific penalties for sexual abuse of children. Different provisions deal with different forms of child sexual abuse.
Section 292A. Exposure to seduction.
Whoever seduces a child by any means whatsoever with an intent to involve him in any sexual activity or exposes him to obscene and sexually explicit material, document, a film, video or a computer-generated image or attempts to do the aforementioned act, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year and may extend up to seven years or with a fine which shall not be less than one hundred thousand rupees and may extend up to five hundred thousand rupees, or with both.
Section 292B. Child pornography.
(1) whoever takes, permits to be taken, with or without the consent of the child or with or without the consent of his parents or guardian, any photograph, film, video, picture or representation, portrait, or computer generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of obscene or sexually explicit conduct, where. — (a) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor boy or girl engaging in obscene or sexually explicit conduct; (b) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in obscene or sexually explicit conduct; or (c) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in obscene or sexually explicit conduct; is said to have committed an offence of child pornography. (2)The preparation, possession or distribution of any data store on a computer disk or any other modern gadget, shall also be an offence under this section.
Section 292C. Punishment for child pornography.
Whoever commits an offence of child pornography shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than fourteen years and may extend up to twenty years, and with fine which shall not be less than one million rupees.
Section 364A. Kidnapping or abducting a person under the age of fourteen.
Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person under the age of fourteen in order that such person may be murdered or subjected to grievous hurt, or slavery, or to the lust of any person or may be so disposed of as to be put in danger of being murdered or subjected to grievous hurt, or slavery, or to the lust of any person shall be punished with death or with imprisonment for life or with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to fourteen years and shall not be less than seven years.
Section 365B. Kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel for marriage etc.
Whoever kidnaps or abducts any woman with intent that she may be compelled, or knowing it to be likely that she will be compelled, to marry any person against her will, or in order that she may be forced, or seduced to illicit intercourse, or knowing it to be likely that she will be forced or seduced to illicit intercourse, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, and shall also he liable to fine; and whoever by means of criminal intimidation as defined in this Code, or of abuse of authority or any other method of compulsion, induces any woman to go from any place with intent that she may be, or knowing that it is likely that she will be, forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person shall also be punishable as aforesaid.
Section 366A. Procuration of minor girl.
Whoever by any means whatsoever, induces any minor girl under the age of eighteen years to go from any place or to do any act with intent that such girl may be, or knowing that it is likely that she will be, forced or seduced to illicit intercourse
Section 366B. Importation of girl from foreign country.
Whoever imports into Pakistan from any country outside Pakistan any girl under the age of twenty-one years with intent that she may be, or knowing it to be likely that she will be, forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person, shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 367A. Kidnapping or abducting in order to subject person to unnatural lust.
Whoever kidnaps, or abducts any person in order that such person may be subjected, or may be so disposed of as to be put in danger of being subjected, to the unnatural lust of any person, or knowing it to be likely that such person will be so subjected or disposed of, shall be punished with death or rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty-five years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 371A. Selling person for purposes of prostitution, etc.
Whoever sells, lets to hire, or otherwise disposes of any person with intent that such a person shall at any time be employed or used for the purpose of prostitution or illicit intercourse with any person or for any unlawful and immoral purpose, or knowing it to be likely that such person shall at any time be employed or used for any such, purpose, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to twenty-five years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanations:- (a) When a female is sold, let for hire, or otherwise disposed of to a prostitute or to any person who keeps or manages a brothel, the person so disposing of such female shall, until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have disposed of her with the intent that she shall be used for the purpose of prostitution.
(b) For the purposes of this section and section 371B, “illicit intercourse” means sexual intercourse between persons not united by marriage.
Section 371B. Buying person for purposes of prostitution, etc.
Whoever buys, hires or otherwise obtains possession of any person with intent that such person shall at any time be employed or used for the purpose of prostitution or illicit intercourse with any person or for any unlawful and immoral purpose, or knowing it to be likely that such person will at any time be employed or used for any such purpose, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to twenty-five years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation: Any prostitute or any person keeping or managing a brothel, who buys, hires or otherwise obtains possession of a female shall, until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have obtained possession of such female with the intent that she shall be used for the purpose of prostitution.”.
Section 375. Rape.
A person A is said to commit “rape” if A- (a) penetrates his penis, to any extent, into the vagina, mouth, urethra or anus of another person B or makes B to do so with A or any other person; or (b) inserts, to any extent, any object or a part of the body, not being the penis, into the vagina, the urethra or anus of B or makes B to do so with A or any other person; or (c) manipulates any part of the body of B so as to cause penetration into the vagina, urethra, anus or any part of body of B or makes B to do so with A or any other person; or (d) applies his mouth to the vagina, anus, urethra or penis of B or makes B to do so with A or any other person, under the circumstances falling under any of the following seven descriptions,―
firstly, against B’s will;
secondly, without B’s consent;
thirdly, with B’s consent, which has been obtained by putting B or any person in whom B is interested, in fear of death or of hurt;
fourthly, with B’s consent, when A knows that A is not B’s husband and that B’s consent is given because B believes that A is another man to whom B is or believes herself to be lawfully married;
fifthly, with B’s consent when, at the time of giving such consent, by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by A personally or through another of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, B is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which B gives consent;
sixthly, with or without B’s consent, when B is under sixteen years of age; or
seventhly, when B is unable to communicate consent
Explanation 1.- For the purposes of this section, “vagina” shall also include labia majora.
Explanation 2.- Consent means an unequivocal voluntary agreement when B by words, gestures or any form of verbal or non-verbal communication, communicates willingness to participate in the specific sexual act: Provided that if B who does not physically resists to the act of penetration, it shall not by the reason only of that fact, be regarded as consenting to the sexual activity.
Explanation 3.- In this Chapter,- “person” means male, female or transgender; and “rape” includes “gang rape”.
Explanation 4.- A bonafide medical procedure or intervention shall not constitute rape.
Section 375A.Gang rape.
Where a person is raped by one or more persons constituting a group or acting in furtherance of a common intention, each of those persons shall be guilty of the offence of gang rape and shall be punished with death or for imprisonmentfor the remainder period of natural life or imprisonment for life and fine.
Section 376. Punishment for rape.
(1) Whoever commits rape shall be punished with death or imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years or more than twenty-five years or for imprisonment for the remainder period of his natural life and shall also be liable to fine. (1A) Whoever commits an offence punishable under sub-section (1) or sub-section (2) of this section, section 377 or section 377B, and in the course of such commission causes any hurt punishable as an offence under section 333, section 335. clauses (iv) (v) and (vi) of sub-section (3) of section 337, section 337C, clauses (v) and (vi) of section 337F, shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and fine ‘; and
(2) ****** omitted
(3) Whoever commits rape of a minor or a person with the mental or physical disability, shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and fine.
(4) Whoever being a public servant, including a police officer, medical officer, or jailor, taking advantage of his official position commits rape shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and fine.
Section 376A. Disclosure of identify of the victim of rape, etc.—(1) Whoever prints or publishes the name or any matter which may make known the identity of any person against whom an offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C or section 376D is alleged or found to have been committed (hereafter in this section referred to as the victim) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
376B. Punishment for rape of child.
Whoever commits rape on a child below the age of eighteen years shall be punished with imprisonment for life which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life, and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 377. Unnatural offences.
Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.
Section 377A. Sexual Abuse.
Whoever employs, uses, forces, persuades, induces, entices or coerces any person to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in fondling, stroking, caressing, exhibitionism, voyeurism or any obscene or sexually explicit conduct or stimulation of such conduct either independently or in conjunction with other acts, with or without the consent where age of person is less than eighteen years, is said to commit the offence of sexual abuse.
Section 377B. Punishment.
Whoever commits the offence of sexual abuse shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than fourteen years and may extend up to twenty years and with fine which shall not be less than one million rupees.
Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act, 2021
The Anti-rape (Investigation and Trial) Act was passed by the Pakistani government in 2021. The purpose of the Act is to ensure the speedy resolution and redressal of rape and sexual abuse offences against women and children through special investigative teams and special courts providing for effective procedures, speedy trials, evidence and related or connected matters. The Act has strengthened the legal framework for the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences in Pakistan, including rape and sexual assault, and introduces several new provisions. Key provisions of the Act include: the establishment of special courts anti- rape crisis cells, legal aid for victims of sexual assault, victim and witness protection, investigation units in each district, in camera trials, compensation for victims, a sex offender registry, and prohibition of disclosure of the identity of the victim of a sexual offence.
The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2018
The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018 contains provisions relating to commercial sexual exploitation. Section 3(1) of the Act defines trafficking and includes commercial sex acts involving force, fraud or coercion and prescribes imprisonment of up to seven years or a fine of up to one million rupees or both. Section 3(2) highlights that the person who commits an offence against a child or a woman shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years but shall not be less than two years or with fine which may extend to one million rupees or with both.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010 also contains provisions that address the issue of child sexual abuse. Section 48 deals with the punishment of child pronography. Section 50 prohibits exporsure to seduction. Section 52 deals with child trafficking and section 53 with child sexual abuse. The law is applicable in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Gaps and Challenges in Dealing with Cases of Child Sexual Abuse
There are several challenges and gaps in dealing with the issue of child sexual abuse in Pakistan. Some of the major ones are:
Stigma and Shame and Protecting Family Honour
Victims of child sexual abuse in Pakistan often face stigma and shame, which can prevent them from reporting the abuse or seeking help. This can also lead to further trauma and psychological distress for the victim. Victims are further stigmatized and blamed by their own families, communities, which can make it difficult for them to come forward. Traditional cultural attitudes may make it difficult for victims to speak out because parents feel ashamed and embarrassed about what has happened to their child, and may worry about how the community will react if they report the abuse.
Intimidation and Threats
Victims of child sexual abuse and their families often face intimidation and threats from the perpetrators or their associates. This can make it difficult for them to testify in court or to pursue the case.
Lack of Specialized Services
There is a lack of specialized services for victims of child sexual abuse in Pakistan, including counseling, legal support, and rehabilitation services. This can make it difficult for victims to recover from the trauma of abuse and to access justice. Additionally, many professionals, including police officers, health care workers, and teachers, do not have adequate training on how to identify and respond to cases of child sexual abuse. This result in cases being mishandled or not reported at all.
Problems with Criminal Justice System
While there are laws in place to address it, there are several systemic issues in the criminal justice system that can prevent victims from getting justice. Victims of sexual assault face secondary victimization, where they are re-traumatized by the legal process. The legal system is also criticized for being slow and ineffective. This can lead to cases of child sexual abuse being delayed or even dismissed, leaving victims without justice. The criminal justice system is often under-resourced and overstretched. This can make it difficult for cases of child sexual abuse to be investigated and prosecuted effectively. Pakistan has a poorly enforced witness protection program, which means that victims and witnesses are vulnerable to retaliation from the perpetrators and their associates. This can make it difficult for them to testify in court or to pursue the case.
Lack of Awareness about Child Sexual Abuse
One of the biggest challenges is the lack of awareness and education about child sexual abuse. Many people in Pakistan are not aware of the extent and severity of child sexual abuse. Also, many people still consider it a taboo topic and are hesitant to talk about it openly. This makes it difficult for victims to come forward and report abuse. This also makes it difficult to identify cases of abuse and to provide support and services to victims. And no one is prepared if a case of sexual abuse is reported in family. Victims of child sexual abuse, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, often not have access to legal resources or may not be aware of their legal rights. This can make it difficult for them to navigate the legal system and to understand the legal process.
Poverty and Socio-Economic Inequality
Poverty and socio-economic inequality can increase the risk of child sexual abuse, as children from disadvantaged backgrounds may be more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Addressing these challenges and gaps will require a multi-faceted approach that includes raising awareness, strengthening enforcement of the legal framework, providing specialized services, and ensuring adequate training for professionals. It will also require addressing the root causes of child sexual abuse, such as poverty and social inequality, through targeted policies and interventions.
Parliamentarians (Federal, Provincial)
- Parliamentarians should assess the effectiveness of existing laws relating to child sexual abuse in Pakistan. If there are gaps or loopholes in the legal framework, these should be addressed through legislative amendments or introduction of new bills.
- Parliamentarians can work towards creating a more effective reporting mechanism for child sexual abuse cases, including mandatory reporting by professionals who work with children, such as teachers and doctors.
- Parliamentarians can lobby for increased budgets and services for child protection agencies, including social services.
- Parliamentarians can play an important role in raising awareness of child sexual abuse through public forms because the public and communities listen to them.
Government Agencies including Law Enforcement Agencies
- Prioritise the investigation of child sexual abuse cases and allocate sufficient resources to these cases. This includes dedicating specialised units and/or personnel to handle these cases.
- Ensure that investigations are conducted in a timely and thorough manner, with an emphasis on gathering physical and forensic evidence that can be used for prosecution.
- Ensure that adequate support services are available to survivors of child sexual abuse, including medical and psychological care, legal aid, and social services.
- Strengthen the role of child protection agencies in the different provinces and regions through human and financial support mandated to provide case management services in accordance with the respective provincial laws.
- Build partnerships with other agencies, including child protective workforce, medical professionals and victim support groups (NGOs, Committees, etc), to improve the response to child sexual abuse cases.
- Encourage victims and their families to come forward and report abuse by creating a safe and supportive environment for reporting. This includes providing victim advocates, forensic interviews and referrals to counselling and support services.
- Develop and implement training programmes for law enforcement personnel on the dynamics of child sexual abuse, trauma-informed interviewing techniques, and best practices in investigating and prosecuting these cases.
- Continually evaluate and improve law enforcement effectiveness in child sexual abuse cases by using data and feedback from victims, families and other stakeholders to inform decisions.
- Increase public awareness of child sexual abuse and its impact on victims and society through public education campaigns and community outreach programmes.
Civil Society Organisations
- Develop and implement training programmes for community leaders, teachers, parents and others who work with children to recognise signs of abuse and respond appropriately.
- Advocate for policies and legislation that protect children from sexual abuse and hold perpetrators accountable. This includes lobbying for stronger laws and policies and working with law enforcement to ensure they are enforced.
- Develop and implement programmes that empower children and young people to speak out against sexual abuse and learn how to protect themselves.
- Conduct research and collect data on the prevalence and impact of child sexual abuse in Pakistan and use this information to inform policy and advocacy efforts.
- Raise public awareness about child sexual abuse and its impact on victims through the use of electronic, print and social media.
- Address cultural and social norms that may contribute to the acceptance or normalisation of child sexual abuse, including traditional practises.
- Increase media coverage of child sexual abuse cases, including reporting on investigations and prosecutions, to raise public awareness of the issue.
- Avoid sensationalising or exploiting child sexual abuse cases and instead provide accurate and sensitive reporting that respects the privacy and dignity of victims and their families.
- Use media platforms, including television, radio and social media, to promote public education campaigns and community programmes that raise awareness of child sexual abuse and its impact on victims and society.
- Develop and implement training programmes for journalists and media professionals on the dynamics of child sexual abuse, trauma-informed interview techniques and best practices for reporting these cases.
- Use media platforms to challenge cultural and social norms that contribute to the acceptance or normalisation of child sexual abuse, including traditional practices such as child marriage.
- Advocate for policies and legislation that protect children from sexual abuse and hold perpetrators accountable, and use media platforms to inform the public about these issues.
(1) “Child Sexual Abuse up by 33% in 2022: Report | the Express Tribune.” The Express Tribune, 21 Mar. 2023, tribune.com.pk/story/2407303/over-4000-children-abused-in-2022-report.
(1) Qindeel Shujaat. He can be reached at email@example.com
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