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EDITORIAL: That Pakistan remains dismally poor at protecting its children from sexual abuse and online pornography is something that has been frequently highlighted in recent years, but it appears that the increased awareness has done little to put the perpetrators of these atrocities behind bars.

This was underscored by the revelations made before the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, which was informed last week that the current conviction rate in child pornography cases stood at a lamentable 27 percent.

The number of FIRs to have been filed in such cases in the last two years clocked in at a mere 184, and only 225 offenders were arrested for committing these heinous crimes during the same time period.

The 2015 Kasur child abuse scandal had become a starting point of sorts when it came to policymakers, law enforcement agencies and the general public according this serious issue at least some of the attention it deserved.

More than eight years down the line, however, it appears that the tragedy in Kasur did little more than mildly stir our national conscience, with paedophilia continuing to play havoc with our children’s lives and child pornography still proving to be as grave a menace as ever.

Delving further into recent statistics pertaining to child sexual abuse reveals a harrowing picture. The child rights NGO Sahil revealed in its half-yearly report for 2023 that a total of 2,227 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the authorities between January and June last year, with the highest number of cases involving children between six and 15 years of age. Disturbingly, in 912 of the cases, the perpetrators were known to the victims.

One of the main findings of the report was the inadequacy of the legal system in putting a stop to such crimes, with low conviction rates remaining a constant feature. In addition, the social stigma attached to reporting cases of child sexual abuse and child pornography, along with the economic pressures often faced by the families of the victims contributes to wrongdoers going scot-free as such matters regularly end up being privately settled.

Further complicating matters when it comes to cases of online child pornography are the obstacles posed by the tech-based nature of the crime. Merely calling for the banning of websites featuring such content, as proposed by the Senate committee, is a woefully inadequate response. Here, a deeper understanding of the issue is vital.

As highlighted by a 2023 media report, child pornography videos are mainly shared in Pakistan through social media platforms based mostly in the US, with there being no legal agreement between the two countries that could ensure the timely communication of internet protocol details of lawbreakers to Pakistani authorities.

A legal agreement between Pakistan and the US that could facilitate swift communication of vital information between the two countries could go a long way in tracing offenders in a timely manner.

It must also be noted that there is scope for further tightening of laws pertaining to child pornography. The Islamabad High Court had ordered the federal government in 2022 to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 by increasing the punishment for child pornography from seven years in jail to 20.

Most shamefully, however, our lawmakers have remained occupied with petty political mudslinging over the last two years instead of focusing on creating a safe environment for our children.

It is about time the authorities stopped viewing the safety of our children as a mere afterthought. That a huge majority of perpetrators in child pornography cases continue to evade the law is a reality that cannot be tolerated anymore.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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KU Jan 10, 2024 01:59pm
The time will never come to protect our vulnerable children and the legislation will be witnessed only to protect the elite from their criminal activities. Even with existing laws the pornography menace can be stopped but when the police and local politicians protect the culprits, there is little anyone can do. These cases are most common in rural areas but only one percent make it to news. Suffering exists without any justice, maybe if the judiciary gets some free time from social work or popularity contest, they can speak through their actions and judgements.
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Tariq Qurashi Jan 15, 2024 04:28pm
We need an organization like the NSPCC ; The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
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