Kasur has been notoriously known for the sexual abuse of children.
It wasn’t long ago when the child pornography scandal from Kasur shocked the entire nation. Later, an entire ring of paedophiles was exposed who had recorded 400 videos of more than 280 children being forced to have sex. Most of the victims were under 14. There was also 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.
In one instance, the father of one of the victims was blackmailed into paying PKR 1.2 million to the abusers, who had threatened to release a video of his son being raped. The crimes came to light in 2015 and quickly rose to prominence. Each and every single case was heart wrenching and painful for the entire nation.
Saba Sadiq, Head of Punjab’s Child Protection Bureau, described the case as “the largest-ever child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history” and said a provincial inquiry announced by the chief minister “would be taken up at federal level to safeguard the children rights in future.” Sadiq said the provincial government would change the law to ensure “vigorous punishment for such criminals.”
The number of victims in this child abuse ring was 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. Most criminals, however, got off their charges by paying a huge bribe to the police forces. Reportedly, the bribes went up to 5 million rupees.
In other cases, children were blackmailed to pay these criminals so that the criminals would not reveal the children had been abused. Many parents sold off their ornaments, or children stole ornaments from their parents and sold them so their abuse would remain a secret.
Some criminals are known while others are still at large.
One of the few who were caught is Sohail Shahzad, a rickshaw driver. He would offer the boys 100 rupees (roughly $0.60) and a rickshaw ride. Once they hopped on, he would rape and strangle them to death, his confessional statement to police says. He was caught after a two-week hunt, during which police took DNA samples from more than 1,700 people in the area, finally narrowing the search down to Sohail Shahzad.
The question then becomes: Why Kasur? Locals and officials both comment on this question and give varying answers. One of the obvious answers is the lack of governmental attention – after all, the terrible ordeal was happening a long time before it came to light in 2015. Why was nothing done then?
When locals are questioned, they speak of child abuse as if it were a bit of an open secret. Men there say that sexual abuse and assault in Kasur is common, almost a rite of passage when growing up here. Playing cricket on the street or stepping out to the playground meant being abused by older boys, says Waqas Khan, who runs several schools around Kasur. He said it was seen as a sign of masculinity for an older boy to have a child with him to perform sexual acts with.
Residents say that the societal reactions often vary when it comes to the gender of the child being abused. When a girl child is abused it is treated as a crime, but for the boys, it is seen in good humor said, community members.
In fact, Shahzad, the man linked to the rape and murder of the four boys in Chunian, spoke out following his arrest about his own history of suffering sexual abuse. He was abused for 12 years at the shop where he worked, he told police, who later arrested his former employer.
So, there is an obvious lack of governmental attention.
Then, there is the police, who regularly take bribes to let criminals go, or are complicit in the actions themselves. The criminals themselves sometimes happen to be very influential people and use their power and privilege to avoid facing charges. One other significant factor is blackmail: since sexual abuse is seen as a form of humiliation, and those talking about are labeled as “lesser men”, then few let the crime come to light. Similarly, girls who are victims are also reluctant to speak up because they are afraid of being “dishonorable” or being labeled as a person guilty of having brought shame to their family.
The most prominent reason is simply the prevalence of sexual abuse: it becomes a toxic circle, where victims who’ve been raped become rapists themselves later on because of the psychological trauma twisting their needs and desires into something inhumane.
At first glance, Kasur looks like your average city: Women walk through its bazaars at night and can be seen sitting at restaurants by themselves, which is not usually a common sight in other parts of the country.
But it is upon further inspection, and the courageous acts of journalism, that we learn of what monsters really lurk underneath.