Child sexual abuse
THE effort to effectively address any social evil must be underpinned by legislation that is adequate in its scope and the sanctions that it imposes. However, our existing laws dealing with child sexual abuse fall short; and there seems to be woefully inadequate motivation on the part of the government to change this reality. This was illustrated by the response that met the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2016 in the meeting on Friday of the National Assembly’s sub-committee on interior. The bill, tabled by MNA Mussarrat Ahmed Zeb after the Kasur and Swat child sexual abuse incidents came to light, sought to enhance the punishment for these crimes to life imprisonment or death. As the MNA herself pointed out, this would bring the sanctions on par with those prescribed for rape. While Dawn remains opposed to the death penalty, the fact is that at present, offenders are awarded only five to seven years in prison. However, the bill was rejected, with the convener of the meeting saying that punishment for the crime is already on the statute books and that it could not be equated with rape.
Crimes against children, particularly in societies like ours that delude themselves that their family structure insulates minors from the violence and inequity around them, elicit public revulsion in the extreme. However, notwithstanding the enormity of the incidents in Kasur and Swat — which involved scores of victims, if not hundreds — there has been little progress on strengthening the legislation that deals with child sexual abuse and pornography. The convener’s remark, while unfortunate, is not an isolated opinion. There remains a widespread lack of understanding of the issue, of sexual coercion and what constitutes ‘consent’, not to mention the long-term repercussions of the crime. In the internet age, physical proximity is immaterial for ‘grooming’ children. The deep web has websites and chat rooms where paedophiles can indulge their illicit predilection, share images etc. Protecting children from predators has become more complex than ever, but we remain in blissful ignorance.