Dawn, a news outlet in Pakistan, reported recently that more than 400 videos depicting the rape, assault, and molestation of over 280 Pakistani children were found being sold to porn sites around the world. And though their original article came out early July, it only picked up momentum last week when journalists and Pakistani citizens began mobilizing protests in Lahore and Western media sources began reporting on the arrests of the men who made the videos.
The abuse began in 2007 in the village of Husain Khanwala in Kasur, Punjab. Children, most younger than 14, were forced to engage in sexual acts with each other and with the 25+ group of men while being recorded. These videos were then shown to the victims and their families to blackmail them — many families still remain massively in debt from trying to pay the abusers off. Many of the videos, some filmed on cell phones, were sold to porn sites in the US and Europe.
The abuse was allowed to continue for so long, only coming to light recently, largely because police and politicians in the area were paid to ignore the scandal or otherwise mobilized to threaten families who could not pay. All the action occurring now, though only 7 men linked to the child pornography ring have been arrested, is entirely due to the pressure being placed on the Pakistani government by journalists and private citizens.
Last week more than 20 people were injured as the families of the victims clashed with police forces in Kasur. The families accused authorities of ignoring their complaints of child abuse and, even now, many protestors feel that there is a massive cover-up happening at higher levels in the Pakistani government because very little has been done so far to punish the perpetrators. The Kasur Scandal is, according to Saba Sadiq, the head of Punjab’s child protection bureau, “the largest child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history.”
It is easy to see the connection between these events and the aftermath of India’s 2012 Delhi Gang Rape. Then too the world witnessed young people, mostly college students, pouring into the streets to march for women’s rights and the end of rape culture in India. The state’s reaction to the demonstrations included hiring more female police officers, improving their rape reporting processes, and otherwise attempting to make the city safer for women. And though the state’s progress has been sluggish, it’s been present. What is happening in Pakistan now could be the beginning of a similar turn in the thinking on sexual violence.
As many as 3,500 cases of child molestation were reported last year, with experts saying there could have been even more, possibly closer to 10,000 cases, which weren’t reported due to shame and cultural barriers. Of those cases that were reported, 67% occurred in rural areas like Kasur. There is also evidence that the families of victims in the Kasur Scandal actually reported the assaults earlier but received no response or follow-up from police officials. Pakistan is in the midst of an epidemic, both in terms of the sheer number of child abuse cases and with the reporting processing being obviously broken.
When the Delhi Gang Rape swept through India, there was an immediate reaction that came in the form of online outcry, public demonstrations, and vocalizing major issues women faced in India overall. It irrevocably changed the way Indians considered rape and sexual violence. And the mass mobilization against the crime created a more open dialogue about sex and gender. The early 2000s may have been about more revealing clothing and item numbers, but the years after 2010 are all about actually talking about sex and not just playing at it. These are the years of the real sexual revolution in India.
As the protests against the Kasur Scandal mirror those that happened in the wake of the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape, there is strong evidence that even if officials shrug the abuse off, Pakistanis will see justice through to the end. It may not come in the form of sentencing all the men involved, but the Kasur Scandal will permanently change the way sexual violence and abuse is talked about — it will help chip away at rape culture.