Islamabad, Pakistan – An average of 12 children per day – or one every two hours – were subjected to sexual abuse in Pakistan in 2023, a report by a nongovernmental organisation says.
In its half-yearly report published on Thursday, Islamabad-based NGO Sahil said a total of 2,227 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the authorities between January and June this year.
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The NGO, which has been operating since 1996, compiles its data from newspaper reports as well as from cases directly reported to them. It said there were 1,207 girls and 1,020 boys in the cases it recorded in 2023.
Imtiaz Ahmad Soomrah, the national legal aid coordinator for Sahil, told Al Jazeera that most of the abuse cases involved children between six and 15.
“Over 47 percent of the cases were reported between this age group and among these, more boys were reported to be sexually abused (593) compared to girls (457),” he said.
The NGO’s report said in 912 of more than 2,200 cases they recorded this year, the accused were acquaintances of the child victim.
The Sahil report further said almost 75 percent of these cases were reported from Punjab, the country’s most populous province.
The southern Sindh province had 314 cases while the federal territory of the national capital Islamabad saw 161 cases of child sexual abuse in the first six months of 2023.
Soomrah said Punjab recording the highest number of cases is also attributed to better policing and reporting mechanisms in the province.
“While there is no doubt Punjab remains the most affected province, it is also a fact that we are able to know their figures due to efficient reporting mechanisms in place,” he said.
Soomrah lamented the lack of such information from the southwestern province of Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and the most impoverished.
“Balochistan had a total of only 24 cases reported in the entire province which is quite unbelievable,” he said.
Soomrah blamed a lack of conviction in cases of child sexual abuse on a weak judicial system and the societal trend of settling the matter out of court.
“Our legal system allows for these heinous crimes to last for years. The conviction rate in children’s sexual abuse cases is not even 2 percent and most of these cases, which do go through legal processes, are settled by compromise between the two parties,” he said.
The Islamabad-based lawyer said this was due to social and economic pressures faced by the families of the victims, and the stigma associated with sexual abuse.
Muhammad Arif Leghari, a senior official at Pakistan’s human rights ministry, told Al Jazeera the government is preparing better mechanisms to protect children from sexual abuse.
“People do complain that our [legal] system is slow, but it has to be understood that we need to fulfil our constitutional and judicial obligations. Courts have to go through the process in detail, where it hears arguments from both sides and has to give time for procedures to be completed so that nobody can claim that law was abused,” he said.