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Laws inadequate to punish culprits in child abuse cases

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has inadequate, spineless laws, dealing with the child sexual abuse, and ordinary statutes are invoked when children are found to be victims of this despicable offence.

“The existing Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 is too weak, insufficient to cope with such crimes,” prominent lawyer Azhar Siddique told The News.

However, he pointed out that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 was relatively better compared to the Punjab law.

The KP act, Azhar Siddique said, also covers the child pornography and sexual harassment. Both the laws and the similar statutes existing in other provinces don’t provide for stringent punishment, he said.

That’s why, the lawyer said, the ordinary law, the Pakistan Penal Code PPC) is applied in the cases that also involve children.

He said now when the nation has been shattered and rocked by the Kasur scandal, special laws should be formulated to award exemplary punishment to such perpetrators.

Due to insufficient punishment provided by the present law, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 is also invoked as has been done in the case of the startling Kasur child abuse scandal so that the culprit do not escape severe punishment.

Section 40 of the Punjab act says whoever secures custody of a child ostensibly for any purpose but exposes such a child to the risk of seduction, sodomy, prostitution or other immoral conditions, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to Rs50,000 or with both.

In fact, it was enacted to consolidate the laws for the rescue, protective custody, care and rehabilitation of destitute and neglected children other than those involved in criminal litigation. The offenders, according to this act, are to be tried by the child protection courts.

The lawyer said special laws and special agencies are required to investigate the child sexual abuse cases. Police are incapable and ill-equipped to properly probe them, he felt.

Section 48 of the KP law says whoever commits an offence of child pornography shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment of either description for a term which may not be less than three years and may extend to seven years and also liable to fine which may not be less than Rs200,000 and may extend to Rs500,000. Its section 50 reads whoever seduces a child by any means whatsoever with an intent to involve him in any sexual activity or exposes him to obscene and sexually explicit material, document, a film, video or a computer generated imagine or attempts to do this action, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years or liable to fine which may extend to Rs10,000 or with both.

Section 49 reads that whoever, by words, spoken or written, or by sign, or otherwise, incites or attempts to incite a child to make any bet or wager or to enter into or take any share or interest in any betting or wagering, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months and shall also be liable to a fine which may extend to Rs50,000.

Sections 376 and 277 of the PPC have been applied to the Kasur case as is generally in such offences. Section 376 says whoever commits rape shall be punished with death or imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years or more than twenty-five years and shall also be liable to fine. When rape is committed by two or more persons in furtherance of common intention of all, each of such persons shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.

Section 377 says whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Azhar Siddique said there was dire need after the shocking Kasur incident to double the punishment for the child sexual abuse and a separate authority should be created to investigate such heinous crimes.

In India, he said, a special code has been framed to deal with the child rape. He said minor victims in such cases shouldn’t and can’t be treated like the adult ones.

In addition, he said, the children affected by this appalling crime also need to be handled psychologically, which police can’t do because they are not trained for that. The police only know the traditional methods of investigation, lack any innovation, he said and added that it was prudent to assign only the duty of maintaining law and order and ensuring security.

While the official measures and laws have been patchy and deficient to sort out the grave crime, the federal government has tabled in the National Assembly two bills for the establishment of National Commission on Child Rights, and Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2015, for protection of child rights. The amendment in the criminal law deals with child sexual abuse and child pornography. The bills have been referred to the Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights. Additionally, the juvenile Justice System Bill, 2015, has been prepared to address the issue of juvenile delinquency as well as violence and offences against children, the minister said in his reply. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Navid Qamar, who is member of this standing committee, has been quoted as saying that such legislation must have been done long ago.

The government is also undertaking a measure against the menace of child sexual abuse at the regional level. South Asia Forum to end Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), an apex body of the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Conference), has been established to focus on five thematic areas, i.e. child marriages, child labour, child trafficking, child sexual abuse and exploitation and corporal punishment, Information Minister Senator Pervez Rashid, who also holds the portfolio of law, has told the National Assembly.

The National Commission for Child Welfare and Development-led initiatives (NCCWD) was working for realisation of child rights. These included: a project, titled “Ending Violence Against children in Pakistan” with the support of Saarc Development Fund; a legal review has been in process to facilitate ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Moreover, the National Child Protection Centre is providing temporary shelter to the homeless/street children, victims of violence and runaway children.

The News