Gaps and Challenges to address Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

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 prevent them from reporting the abuse or seeking help. This also lead to further trauma and psychological distress for the victim. Victims are further stigmatised and blamed by their own families, communities, which can make it difficult for them to come forward. Traditional cultural attitudes further 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.

Non-disclosure of identify of Victims

The Anti-Rape Act of 2021, specifically Section 26 on “Non-disclosure of identity of victims,” unequivocally prohibits the disclosure of a victim’s identity or their family’s without prior written permission. Despite this legal provision, there have been instances where the victim’s identity has been revealed, contrary to the law. This breach is often observed in various domains, including the media (print, electronic, and social media), as well as in judicial rulings.  The Lahore High Court’s recent judgement highlighted the failure to protect the identity of rape victims and their families in judicial proceedings, as mandated by the Anti-Rape Act 2021. Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh emphasized the need for compliance with the Act, directing judges to use acronyms instead of full names. The court ordered the circulation of the judgement to enforce compliance and called for a review of implementation efforts by the federal government within 60 days.

Intimidation and Threats

Intimidation and threats pose significant obstacles for victims of child sexual abuse and their families throughout the legal process. In addition to facing challenges in registering a First Information Report (FIR) due to fear of retaliation, victim or families often encounter delays and obstacles in seeking justice. Perpetrators or their accomplices may use intimidation tactics to discourage victims from taking legal action, exacerbating the survivor’s trauma. In addition, the justice system often fails to provide adequate protection for victims and their families, leaving them exposed to further harm. When cases bog down in the justice system, victims suffer ongoing uncertainty and emotional distress, compounding the difficulties they face in seeking closure and healing.

Lack of Specialised Services

There is a lack of specialised services including counseling, legal support, and rehabilitation services for victims of child sexual abuse. 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.

Legal Framework and Enforcement

While there are laws that address this, there are several systemic problems in the criminal justice system that prevent victims from getting justice. Victims of child sexual abuse face secondary victimisation, where they are re-traumatised by the legal process. The existing legal framework lacks adequate mechanisms to enforce the law, resulting in low conviction rates for perpetrators. The legal system is slow, resulting in cases of child sexual abuse being delayed or even dismissed, leaving victims without justice. Several factors contribute to these gaps, including capacity issues such as staff shortages, limited funding to conduct investigations and corruption within the system. This makes it difficult to effectively investigate and prosecute cases of child sexual abuse. Pakistan also has a poorly enforced witness protection programme, which means that victims and witnesses are at risk of retaliation from perpetrators and their accomplices. This can make it difficult for them to testify in court or 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. And no one is prepared if a case of child 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 exacerbate the vulnerability of children to sexual abuse and exploitation in Pakistan. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as child domestic workers and street children, are particularly at risk due to their precarious living conditions and lack of protective measures. Economic hardship often forces families to send their children to work or beg on the streets, exposing them to exploitation by employers, traffickers, and other perpetrators. Moreover, poverty can limit access to education and social services, leaving children with fewer resources and support networks to seek help or report abuse. As a result, perpetrators may target vulnerable children who are less likely to be protected or believed if they disclose their experiences.


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