Sexual abuse of children and minors is becoming a rampant problem across Pakistan, but the way it has surged in Karachi should be alarming for the city police. Over 200 cases of minor sexual abuse have been reported in one year till the last week of 2022; this number does not include other cases which went unreported. According to reports, the most vulnerable age group is from five to 11, followed by 12 to 17 years. That means minors and children from five to 17 years of age constitute nearly two-thirds of the total abuse cases in Karachi. The most disturbing part of this story is that cases of minor girls’ murder after rape have seen a worrisome increase in Karachi during 2022. Just in the last quarter of the year a sudden upsurge has been witnessed with at least six cases of murder after rape have shaken the city recently. Three of them took place quite recently in December alone. These official statistics from the Karachi police reveal that in eight of the 216 reported cases of sexual abuse in the city, the victims were infants and not even five years old.
As many as 40 of the victims were between six and 10, whereas 38 were over 15 and below 18 years of age. Though the police have been able to arrest the suspects in nearly all minor abuse-related cases, it is alarming that in most cases close relatives and neighbours were the main accused as the perpetrators of such heinous crimes. A majority of victims became targets of sexual abuse within the confines of their homes. The police appear to be helpless in such situations where the home itself is not a safe place for the child. When close relatives are involved in such crimes in the house the police can get only involved after the crime has been committed. In many such cases the police could not get timely information of these cases and the investigation got delayed as forensic evidence became hard to gather after any such delay in reporting.
The malaise is of a much broader scale and cannot be contained by investigation and prosecution alone. There are at least two more fronts – in addition to law enforcement – that need attention here: awareness and education. Awareness among parents about not blindly trusting even their close relatives can play a significant role. Breach of trust is way too common now and no excuse should be acceptable when parents themselves leave their children and minors in the custody of male relatives. Education for children must include lessons on how to protect their bodies and not allow inappropriate touch even by close relatives. There appears to be a cultural breakdown in society which it needs to tackle upfront. Research shows that before abuse and rape there is a usually a long trail of inappropriate touch that the child does not report or does not understand. Awareness and education with cutting-edge investigation and prosecution methods may make a difference, otherwise the situation looks bleak for our children.