Pakistani police drive men accused of child abuse to the Lahore High Court in Pakistan, August 11, 2015.
The United Nations, children＇s rights defenders and local media are stepping up pressure on Pakistani authorities to swiftly bring to justice a gang of men accused of sexually abusing nearly 300 children for years and selling videos of the abuse.
It is being described as the biggest child abuse scandal in the history of a country where pedophilia remains a taboo subject.
Parents and residents of the Kasur district in Pakistan’s Punjab province have accused police of failing to break up the pedophilia ring because of political pressure.
They allege that an influential family in the area for years forced children to perform sex on camera, and the video was used to extort money from the victims and their poverty-stricken families.
On Tuesday, victims’ lawyers told an anti-terrorism court in Lahore, the provincial capital, that many of the videos were sold to buyers and pornographic websites outside Pakistan.
＇Nobody spoke up＇
The revelation has shocked and outraged Pakistanis.
Human rights activist Tahira Abdullah said pedophilia is a worldwide phenomenon and a hallmark in developing countries like Pakistan.
“But what has come as a shock is the fact that there is such a large number, allegedly 284 children — mostly boys but girls also — ranging from age 6 to 16, and it has taken place over a prolonged period of time, from 2006 to 2015," she said. "That is the shocking aspect, because the village is a small village. It is a poverty-stricken village, and I am amazed that nobody spoke up.”
Provincial authorities have arrested 13 suspects, including government officials, and police have instituted cases against them under anti-terrorism laws.
An attorney for some of the victims, Aftab Bajwa, said there was enough evidence for police to establish their case.
“I am 100 percent sure, because we have a strong evidence in the shape of videos,” Bajwa said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed punishment for the culprits.
But the provincial law minister of Sharif’s party, which rules Punjab, is under fire for allegedly misstating facts in a statement to the media in a bid to protect pedophilia gang members.
Victims and their families have told the media and authorities they are receiving threats; they say they have been told to withdraw their complaints or reach out-of-court settlements.
The U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund has condemned the child abuse as “appalling” and called on the Pakistani government to bring to justice those responsible for the abuse.
A regional spokeswoman for UNICEF, Kendra Gregson, told VOA the incidents in Kasur underline the need to do more to protect Pakistani children from abuse.
“Right now, first and foremost, it is about the children themselves that have been exploited in this way, and really needing to make sure that they are protected and that they are safe," said Gregson.
Pakistan’s parliament on Monday approved a resolution demanding “exemplary” punishment for those behind the sexual assaults on children.