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EDITORIAL: What happened on a road near Chunian in Punjab is beyond shocking. According to press reports, a 13-year-old girl was on the way home along with her father, uncle and 6-year-old brother on a motorcycle when they were intercepted in Pattoki Saddar Police Station area by two robbers at gunpoint and taken to a plants’ nursery alongside the road, where the two men and the minor boy were tied to a tree and the girl raped in front of the father and uncle.

After that the rapists made off with cash, mobile phones and a motorcycle snatched from the family. The emotional trauma the father and uncle went through as their girl cried for help is not difficult to imagine.

Rape cases are seldom reported since a general tendency in this society is to stigmatise the victim rather than the perpetrator. Honourably in this case, the uncle registered an FIR with the police who shifted her to the nearby tehsil headquarters hospital for medical aid and examination.

Soon afterwards, Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz took notice of the incident and visited the girl and her family in their village home, and assured them that the two criminals will be brought to justice.

He also sought a report from the Inspector General of Police, who in turn sought a report from the Regional Police Officer (RPO), directing his men to arrest the culprits and stay in contact with the affected family. It is good to see the CM takes personal interest in the case, but protecting the identity of the victim was important, too.

He should have followed progress of police investigations from his office instead of visiting the victim’s residence, which may have fetched him some political mileage but embarrassed the family before the entire village. Now that they are under pressure, the police are expected to arrest the rapists soon.

In fact, the RPO promptly posted a video on social media to report that a suspect had been nabbed though it was yet to be confirmed whether he was one of the real culprits. Whenever they are caught severe punishment awaits them.

The existing law provides for either life imprisonment or death for the crime, depending on the aggravating circumstances. In 2021, following the gang rape of a woman who was dragged out of her car on the Lahore-Gujranwala Motorway, and gang raped before her two children generating countrywide outrage, Parliament approved an amendment to the law making rape punishable with chemical castration as well.

Her rapists were later arrested and sentenced to death. As the present incident shows that has not served as a deterrent for other criminals.

There seems to be merit in the argument advanced by some rights groups that the correct course of action would be to look into the root causes of sexual violence rather than going for harsher punishments.

Among the many causes is the mentality which views women as sexual objects, creating a culture of victim blaming. It may be recalled that in the case of motorway incident, even the then RPO had suggested the woman was at fault, too, when he said she shouldn’t have travelled alone — meaning unaccompanied by a male chaperon — at night, and without checking the fuel gauge (her car had run out of petrol and stopped). It is about time this aspect of rape crime also received serious attention.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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