Muhammad Israr Mohmand
Instances of child sexual violence have witnessed a concerning surge in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police has compiled a comprehensive report spanning four years, shedding light on the alarming prevalence of child sexual abuse cases across the province, totaling 1,233.
Over the past four years, the incidence of sexual assaults has exhibited a distressing upward trend. In the year 2019, 185 cases were reported, while the figure escalated to 323 cases in 2020. Similarly, the count of sexual offenses reached 360 in 2021 and 365 in 2022.
Official records reveal that, thus far this year, 43 cases of sexual violence against children have been reported. In 2019, Peshawar accounted for 42 cases, with Nowshera witnessing 27 cases, Mardan 42, Kohat 12, Mansehra 17, Lakki Marwat 8, and Charsadda 4.
In 2020, Mardan witnessed 51 cases of child sexual abuse. Concurrently, Haripur and Mansehra each reported 24 cases, Peshawar 30, Nowshera 21, Swabi 14, Kohat 11, DI Khan 48, Swat 18, Dir Lower 12, and Abbottabad 16. In 2021, Dera Ismail Khan documented 45 cases, Peshawar 44, Mardan 58, Mansehra 33, Haripur 28, Swat 33, Swabi 19, Kohat 10, and Bannu 11. In 2022, the year recorded 365 cases of child sexual violence.
Though the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has enacted stringent legislation within the assembly to safeguard children from sexual abuse, effective measures to apprehend and penalize offenders remain less apparent.
Under the Child Protection Act, child sexual abuse is subject to severe penalties, including life imprisonment, the death penalty, and other punitive actions. The consequences entail dismissal from all forms of employment and the publication of images of wrongdoers on government institutions and social media.
In 2019, the former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government introduced crucial amendments to child protection laws, securing their approval within the Provincial Assembly.
Despite these measures, child sexual abuse predominantly goes unreported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to societal stigma. To address this issue, the government introduced both legislation and a helpline, yet the latter’s effectiveness remains limited due to insufficient publicity.
Zahid, a journalist associated with Dawn News in Peshawar, noted that the police’s compiled data represents reported cases of child sexual violence. Actual occurrences likely surpass the reported numbers as many cases go unreported due to social taboos and fear of reprisal.
According to Imran Takkar, a children’s rights advocate, the increase in child violence cases stems from insufficient awareness about children’s rights and protection mechanisms, compounded by inadequate preventive infrastructure. The judiciary, police, and child protection agencies are hampered by inadequate human and technical resources.
Advocate Nauman Kakakhel, a Peshawar High Court lawyer specializing in child sexual violence cases, emphasized that the Child Welfare Act was enacted in 2010, allowing perpetrators of child sexual violence to face imprisonment ranging from seven years to life, and accomplices to face three years in prison.
Kakakhel further highlighted the lack of a forensic laboratory in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a major impediment in child abuse cases. Weak investigations and the need to send evidence to Lahore for forensic testing resulted in substantial delays, weakening the case’s strength and effectiveness.