Punjab’s leading child protection official has called for a federal inquiry into ‘the largest-ever child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history’ after the discovery of 400 videos recording more than 280 children being forced to have sex.
Most of the victims were under 14 but include a six year old boy who was forced to perform a homosexual act and a 10 year old schoolgirl who was filmed being molested by a 14 year old boy.
Videos of these assaults were filmed and thousands of copies are believed to have been sold for Rs 50 each in Ganda Singh Wala and Hussain Khanwala villages in Qasur district. One of the victims said he was injected in the spine with a drug before he was assaulted.
The scale of the scandal emerged in early August after the victims’ parents clashed police during a protest against their failure to prosecute the men who orchestrated the scandal. Two dozen people were injured when police used force to disperse more than 4,000 protesters on the Dipalpur Road near Dolaywala village in Qasur district who were calling for justice for the victims.
They have claimed that local police have tried to cover up the scandal and that the perpetrators have used their influence to avoid being charged.
The number of victims in this child abuse ring is almost three times higher than in the case of Javed Iqbal in the late 1990s when around 100 children were sexually abused and murdered in Lahore.
So far only six abusers have been arrested, five of whom have been remanded in custody but according to parents of the victims the abuse was orchestrated by a gang of up to 25 young men and teenagers led by two men in their 40s.
The gang arranged the abuse, perpetrated it in many cases, and then used the videotapes of the assaults to blackmail the children and their families to hand over millions of rupees. Many of the children stole gold ornaments from their parents to pay off their abusers to keep their ordeal secret.
The abuse began in 2006 and continued until one year ago. They have seized more than 400 videos depicting the assaults, and many of the parents have identified their children as victims in the films. Some of the clips showed that some of the victims were abused for more than an hour.
In one clip five to six young men are seen molesting a seven-year-old boy. The ‘producers’ recorded the videos at different locations – in the open fields, washrooms, bedrooms, and at deserted houses.
Police sources said the main suspect had been released after a Rs 5 million bribe was paid on his behalf and victims families said they had been subjected to pressure by a local political figure to withdraw the allegations. One mother aged 35, said she had to sell her gold ornaments to pay Rs 600,000 to the blackmailers for the videos of her 14 year old son being abused to be erased. “They made the video of my son in 2011. We have been paying money to the blackmailers for the last four years. I have seen the videos. It was disgusting and shameful,” she said with tears rolling down her cheeks. “We are seriously thinking to set our houses on fire and leave the locality.”
A 10-year-old said he was taken to a haveli by the gang at gunpoint. “After being brutally tortured, I was administered “spinal injection” and I was dozing when five to six men molested me one by one,” he said.
The police have arrested a 13-year-old boy for having sex with another child. His mother said her son is innocent because he committed the crime under duress. “They (producers of the clips) not only molested the children themselves but they also asked the victims to rape each other on camera,” she told The Nation.
“Everyone in this village is a victim. Our children both boys and girls are raped and blackmailed,” said another victim’s mother.
Another boy said he was molested by the same gang in 2006. “I was just nine years old when I was abducted and taken to a deserted house. I was brutally tortured when I offered resistance. Then they administered a spinal injection. I was raped multiple times by several men at gunpoint. I decided not to tell anybody.
Six months later, the accused showed me the video clips when I refused to perform sexual acts on camera again. It was horrible,” he said. The family of a ten year old girl forced to perform a sex act in her school uniform said they had paid a million rupees to their blackmailers but they had not erased the video.
Another villager said the gang had sold videos of the children to gay porn sites operating from the UK, USA, and Europe. One victim said he once heard one of the gang leaders talking on Skype to a customer abroad. “Once I saw, Shirazi was talking to someone on Skype. He was talking about the videos of children and money in return. They were collecting a huge amount in dollars from the dealers abroad,” he said.
One villager who led the campaign to expose the scandal told the media he had been warned he would be killed if he did not withdraw his claims.
Fact-finding Missions have received credible testimonies indicating large-scale sexual abuse of children over many years in village Husain Khan Wala in Qasur district. It is clear that a heinous crime has been committed against children.
The references made to a land dispute in the village are irrelevant and nothing can justify avoidance of impartial investigation and prosecution.
The crime remained concealed largely because the victims’ families paid extortion money and they were also intimidated.
The police could not have been unaware of the video clippings freely circulating in the area and rumors of abuse of children and their failure to take action lends support to charges of policemen’s collusion with the culprits.
The role of political parties is distributing.
The victim families also lack of interest in the children’s psychological rehabilitation.
The press and electronic media have reported the existence of several hundred video clips that showed scenes of sexual abuse involving almost 300 children. There are allegations by the families of the victims and local social activists,both of negligence and of collusion in concealing facts and evidence against the police, influence of local politicians to protect the accused and of intimidation of complainants and witnesses by the accused and the police.
On August 11, the CM Punjab who has yet to visit the area, constituted a joint investigation team.
The SHO of Police Station Ganda Singh Wala has been suspended after complaints from the victim families that he was in collusion with the accused and was making videos of all those who approached the police with information on the crime or to register a complaint related to the sexual abuse of their child or relative. A new SHO has been appointed.
The DPO has also been removed from his post by order of the Chief Minister.
Till August 11, 8 FIRs had been registered against 15 accused persons by family members of the different victims. This includes one FIR that has been filed for criminal intimidation against some persons from the accused party by one of the complainants of the earlier FIRs. According to the information received from the police, 12 of the accused were already under arrest, the interim pre-arrest bail of one accused, TanzilurRahman, was cancelled on 11-8-15 and he had also been taken into custody, and two namely, Irfan Ahmed and Waseem Sindhi were still evading arrest. All the accused were from the same village and lived in close proximity to the victim families. Many of the accused were related to each other. Haseem Amir, the main accused, his father and 2 brothers were amongst the arrested accused.
The earliest FIR registered was on July 1, 2015 by one Malik Usman, brother of one of the victims. Two more FIRs were registered on the same day by other complainants. Subsequent FIRs are dated July 4, 9, and 13, 2015.
According to the police, it was towards the end of May 2015 that “secret information” was received about a criminal group in Village Hussain Khan Wala that was involved in sexual abuse of children and making video films of scenes of the crime and using these to blackmail families of the victims to extort money from them, and that the villagers were planning to organize a protest demonstration in this regard.
A police party went to the village to investigate the “secret” report on May 26, 2015. The police report following this visit recorded by Muhammad Amin Moharar, states that respectables of the village who were questioned affirmed that some families had complained that an unknown group in the village was committing sexual abuse of children and using the video clippings for blackmail and extortion. The same report also mentioned that the one of these “respectables”, Mubeen Ahmed son of Muizuddin, also informed the police that these allegations had emerged during a gathering of people on a different issue, involving a piece of public land owned by the Canal department that some private persons in the village had acquired through political influence. Mubeen Ahmed claimed that he wanted the land to be put to public use for constructing a hospital and using as a cricket ground for children. The report ended with the finding that as no clues with regard to the video clippings were found and the allegations of gang activities of sexual abuse were still just rumours. In case any direct complaint of such activity was received in the future, appropriate action will be taken.
The author of this report Muhammad Amin Moharar categorically denied reports received by the team from media sources that the police had received complaint of one incident of sexual abuse against the same accused in 2013 from one Mst. Bashiran, whose son was a victim. The police officer also denied that the said Bashiran had been beaten by one of the accused in the police station and the police had participated in her torture.
While he acknowledged that the number of objectionable clippings were in the hundreds, he denied that the number of victims was in the hundreds. At the same time he claimed lack of knowledge on the number of victims except those named in the FIRs registered with the police. On a query regarding police actions for recovery of the objectionable video clippings and for prevention of their further circulation, the police officer said that plain clothed policemen were stationed in the village to detect the circulation and other use of the video clippings, but no such material had been recovered so far.
According to Mubeen Ghaznavi, the existence of the videos was revealed about 7-8 months ago, when one of victim children went to a mobile shop to get an Indian movie downloaded in his phone and the shopkeeper got the memory card of that mobile. The videos then started circulating in the village, and people came to know about this activity. It is around that time that Bashiran Bibi went to the police station to complain about the accused, who had victimized her son. Mubeen supported the allegation that she was beaten and threatened by the police at PS Ganda Singh Wala and her complaint was not registered.
The villagers kept silent about the matter for many months because of the scandalous nature of the clippings and because of close relationship with many of the people concerned on both sides, the victims and the accused.
Many of the parents/families did not know of what was happening to their children. Many of the victim children were stealing money and jewelry from their families in order to pay extortion money to the accused who were blackmailing the children and threatening to make the videos public. The parents would chastise their children after discovery of the theft, but did not file cases of theft. However, there were some families, who also paid extortion money to the accused to keep the scandal from becoming public.
After some time some of the parents including, Mst. Bashiran, got to know about the videos from village sources, and a group of people decided to take action. However, most of the victims’ families were reluctant to take legal action or to expose the incidence of abuse of their children, because of fear of dishonor. Initially there was consultation amongst the village leaders and the general trend was to reach some reconciliation without taking any legal recourse.
According to Mubeen, the Panchayat had discussed the issue and, if everyone had cooperated, the issue would have been resolved at the village level with some settlement between the accused and the complainant families. However, a compromise could not be reached. Ultimately Bashiran took the matter to the police. This opened the way for others to file formal complaints.
Despite FIRs being filed since early July 2015,the police took no action against many of the accused.While the police made no progress in investigation, they openly colluded with the accused party and aided the intimidation and harassment of the victim families and their supporters. This led to a protest demonstration by the complainant families and other villagers in August. The demonstration turned violent after the police used force against the protestors and this resulted in several people being injured. After the demonstration the whole scandal was revealed to the media.
The police have always acted in a partisan manner and even now are concealing evidence and there are several examples of their negligence. He made reference to a television channel that had filmed inside the ‘haveli’ that is the site of some of the incidents of sexual abuse of children, and had shown “injections and drugs” that were ostensibly used for these crimes. He said the police had not bothered to secure this evidence and had left the site accessible to anyone. This reflects both negligence and collusion of the police.
He also claimed that the police have recovered many more clippings than the 72 that they have mentioned to the media. He also claims to have heard the testimony of one of the victims before the police who had told them that almost 400 such clippings exist of abuse of different children.
He himself has seen some of the videos and has identified the victims. He has not seen all the videos, so cannot say with certainty how many children were involved. Those of the victims that he has spoken to, all name the same persons who are the nominated accused in the different FIRs that have been filed.
He said the DPO and the RPO are, under political influence, trying to make it out to be a land dispute issue, which is untrue. There is a piece of public land over the use of which there are differences, but that has nothing to do with this scandal. There is ample evidence of this crime. It is now for the police to investigate honestly and to identify who are the perpetrators of the crime and who are victims.
Suraya Bibi, the mother of one of the victims and a complainant in one of the 8 FIRs, said that Haseem Amir son of Yahya, together with his accomplices had been sexually abusing her 16-year old son and filming the sordid crime since 2011. Her son was 12 years old at the time that the abuse happened for the first time. The accused and his family are her next-door neighbors. They have always had a bad reputation in the village and Haseem Amir’s father had, in the past, also sexually harassed her and abducted her with the intention of forcing her to have illicit relations with him.
She came to know of the crimes committed against her son a few months ago, when the mother of another victim told her that her son was also seen in the clippings that were being circulated. She went to the house of one Yaseen Sufi, who had these video clippings and saw some of them and identified her son. She said that the men in the village had been watching these videos and knew what had happened, much before the women were made aware of the wide spread sexual abuse of children in the village.
She supported the allegations of police torture on Mst. Bashiran and said that, in fact, it was only after that incident that the other families approached the police and insisted on their FIRs being registered.
She generally supported the statement made by Mubeen Ghaznavi. However, she did complain that her son’s studies had been ruined and that the activities of the accused gang had corrupted the children and young persons in the village. She did not allege that she had paid any extortion money to the accused, but bitterly complained of the intimidation by the accused, particularly the Yahya family, after she had filed the FIR. After the arrest of most of the men in that family, intimidation continues by the mother of Haseem Amir, who continues to hurl verbal abuses and threats at them from her house that is just next door.
Mother of another victim who still has not taken any formal action against the accused, but has seen video clippings of the sexual abuse of her son, who is now 17/18 years old, said that the abuse of her son went on for some years. She claimed that several thousand rupees were extorted from the victim child by the accused after blackmailing him and threatening to make video clippings of the abuse public. She said that her son had stolen money from the house several times. The family would beat him up on discovery of the theft, but did not find out why this was happening repeatedly. In response to a question from the team on why she has not filed a criminal complaint against those who had committed a crime against her son, she said that it has been decided by the their supporters that no FIRs will be filed in protest, till the Chief Minister himself comes to commiserate with them and to assure them of justice.
There is a body of material and credible testimonies indicating not only that a large number of children had been sexually abused and exploited by the accused, but also that this abuse had continued over a period of years – at least since 2010.
Most of these children were between 10-16 years of age when the incidents of sexual abuse against them started to take place.
The police says that it is not certain whether the children were abused or were the abusers. While it is true that videos alone can reveal the true nature of the acts committed, the team remains cognizant of the fact that owing to the age of the children, their involvement in any act of the this nature will be viewed as abuse and exploitation by those who were filming the act.
In the presence of clear and convincing evidence that a heinous crime against children of this village has occurred, the issue of the land becomes irrelevant in the context of the duty of the state to investigate and to take all necessary measures to protect these children and young persons from exploitation. It is possible that persons with ulterior motives are opportunistically using this scandal to further their interests. However, that should in no way overshadow the urgent need to address the complaints by victim families and to ensure that honest and impartial investigation and prosecutions be carried out against those named as accused.
The crime remained concealed largely because extortion money was paid either by the children or their families to the accused. Intimidation of the complainant families by the accused is also borne out by the statement of several persons from the village and the repeated complaints by the families of the victims to the police. One FIR for intimidation has also been registered by the uncle of one of the victims who is also a complainant in the FIR against the accused group for sexual abuse of his nephew.
Many implicate the police also in the campaign of intimidation that has intensified after the whole scandal has come in public view.The SHO Ganda Singh Wala had on one occasion filmed the complainants who had come to register their complaint against the accused and had given that video to the accused persons. The SHO was suspended because of complaints against him.
The wide circulation of the video clippings and rumors going around the village preceding the registration of cases connected to this scandal could and should not have escaped the notice of the police for so many months.
The incident involving Mst. Bashiran, known to so many people in the village, merits belief. This incident indicates both collusion of the police and the fact that torture and humiliation of complainants is a usual mode of treatment meted out to common citizens even in this police station.
The behavior and conduct of the previous SHO Shah Waliullah is certainly suspected. A major reason to suspect absence of good faith is the report prepared by the Moharar regarding the “secret information” of the sexual abuse incidents and the non-serious way it was dismissed. The only motive for that report seems to be the intention of putting the land dispute on record and discrediting any complaints made by the victims and their families. This is still being used to undermine the stories being told by the children and diverting the public opinion.
The police has failed to give a satisfactory account of their action to secure and preserve evidence or to prevent further circulation of objectionable video clippings. A TV channel reportedly had unhindered access to one of the crime scenes, i.e., the ‘haveli’ of the accused and had filmed what it claimed to be implements used in the crime. This indicates gross incompetence of the police and also their non-serious attitude in investigating the crime.
Several repeatedly complain that local politicians are pressurizing the police to downplay the occurrence. None of these complaints, however, are specific to any one personality. Some of the media persons did say that a local MPA was helping the accused party and that some of these people were his relatives or from his clan. The team could not collect any specific information that allows it to make a conclusive finding of using political influence against any one person or group in favor of the accused.
It is, nevertheless, true that the behavior of the police and public statements made by some of the PML (N) leaders casts a doubt on their commitment to ensure that justice is done to the victims and that serious measures are taken to prevent further harm to them and their families.
Raana Sanaullah, for instance, tried to dismiss the whole incident as a fabrication instigated by persons with a vested interest in a land dispute in village Hussain Khanwala.
There is total disregard for the physical and psychological impact of the abuse on the victims. None of those including the parents raise any concerns in this regard. Suggestions that the children should receive proper medical attention and psychological counseling are given no serious attention by the families of these children, nor those who were leading their pursuit for justice against the accused. There is no discussion in the village on what needs to be done to assure that such criminal activity was to an end and never repeated.