By: Ashraf Javed
LAHORE: Country’s biggest child abuse scandal is about to hit spotlight once again as the high-powered probe team is all set to make public its investigation report, expected today.
Reports of sexual abuse of about 280 children, most of them under 14, in Kasur district’s border village –Hussain Khan Wala– had shocked the country in August.
Some news channels yesterday claimed that fifteen suspects were charged in the scandal on Tuesday while “the charge sheet has been presented before Anti-Terror Court (ATC)”.
According to the 100-page charge sheet, reports said, as many as 239 children were abused in Kasur. The culprits also blackmailed the victims and their families to extort money. Investigators seized videos, CDs, cash, and other material from their possession. But sources close to the JIT were tight-lipped. A senior officer told The Nation yesterday that the Joint Investigation Team is giving final touches to the report. “The investigation report is most likely to be submitted to the concerned quarters within a day or two,” the officer said, requesting anonymity.
The JIT has interviewed as many as 400 persons including police and government officials during the two month-long investigation. On August 11, Provincial Police Chief Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera visited the village and assured victim families of speedy investigation, saying that it will be completed in 14 days. Normally, such probes take years to complete because of country’s complex and inefficient criminal justice system.
However, the considerable delay in JIT finding has caused fear and panic among the complainants and victim families. Most of the victims are still terrified but they are hopeful of getting justice. Sources revealed that many victims spoke to the JIT on the condition that they would not file cases with the police. However, they admitted to investigators that they were abused, filmed, and blackmailed.
“Despite CM’s assurances, the police are unwilling to quash or withdraw fake cases registered against the victims. The police may launch a crackdown against us,” one of the victims told The Nation yesterday.
The victims had boycotted the JIT proceedings after the local police registered a few criminal cases against them. But they had joined investigations after the Punjab CM assured victim families that cases lodged against them would be withdrawn.
Leading lawyer and victims’ counsel Latif Sara yesterday said that they were waiting for the JIT report. “At this stage, we are not going to issue statements. We will hold a news conference to comment on the JIT finding only after going through the report”.
The lawyer also said that the victim parties are not notified yet by relevant authorities on any recent development. The provincial government had constituted a five-member joint investigation team after the discovery of 400 videos of around 280 children being abused.
Punjab Constabulary Deputy Commandant DIG Abubakar Khudabakhsh is convener of this team, which includes two members from leading intelligence agencies and two from the police – SSP Khalid Bashir Cheema and DSP Liaqat Ali.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif rushed to Kasur district “on a surprise visit” by road on Tuesday soon after local new channels, quoting JIT finding, broadcast that at least 239 children were sexually abused. Reports said that the CM assured victims that they would be provided justice and directed police to help the victims.
At least 29 complaints have been registered with the Ganda Singh Wala police so far. An anti-terrorism court was informed on Tuesday that a final challan against Kasur scandal accused had been submitted to the prosecution department for review.
The court, accepting the request, adjourned the hearing till October 19 and directed the police to submit challan before next date of hearing. All 15-accused identified as Haseem Amir, Aleem Asif, Waseem Abid, Ateequr Rehman, Saleem Akhtar, Tanzeelur Rehman, Yahya Kamran, Inam Ullah, Ali Majeed, Faizan Majeed, Waseem Sindhi, Usman khalid, Irfan Faridi, Abdul Mannan and Basharat were also produced in the court.
A senior provincial police officer had been transferred and three top officials of Kasur district police were suspended over negligence. Hussain Khan Wala village had become focus of the world news media after The Nation highlighted that a gang had been abusing children on a massive scale for the last several years.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its fact-finding report said that the “Team estimates that several hundred video clippings depicting scenes of sexual activity with children existed.”
“There is a body of material and credible testimonies indicating not only a large number of children had been sexually abused and exploited, but also that this abuse continued over a period of years – at least since 2010.”
The gang arranged the abuse, perpetrated it in many cases, and then used the videotapes to blackmail children and their families for money. Many of the children stole gold ornaments from their parents to pay off their abusers to keep their ordeal secret.