Pakistan vows to get tough on child sex-abuse scandal

Accused gang members in a police lock-up in Husain Khan Wala village, 55km south-west of Lahore. The police have arrested 12 people after media reports on the alleged abuse led to a public outcry.
Accused gang members in a police lock-up in Husain Khan Wala village, 55km south-west of Lahore. The police have arrested 12 people after media reports on the alleged abuse led to a public outcry.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PM promises 'harshest punishment' on gang accused of filming 280 children being abused

ISLAMABAD • Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday vowed to fully prosecute those found guilty in a child sex-abuse scandal that has shocked the Muslim-majority nation as parents accused police of failing to do enough to break up the paedophile ring.

At least 280 children were reportedly filmed being sexually abused by a gang of 25 men who used the hundreds of videos they produced to blackmail the youngsters' parents in the central Punjabi village of Husain Khan Wala.

The clips were sold locally for 40 Pakistan rupees each (Singapore 55 cents) if they did not pay up, the parents said. The police have arrested 12 suspects and confiscated 30 pornographic videos. Seven families have filed police complaints.

"The accused should be given the harshest punishment and no leniency should be shown towards them," Mr Sharif's office said in a text message. The prime minister is facing pressure to show he is tough on crime as his opponents look for any opportunity to discredit his two-year-old administration.

On Sunday, his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, ordered an inquiry into the case after newspapers carried reports of the alleged abuse. Villagers said a prominent family has for years forced children to perform sex acts on video.

MOTHER'S ANGUISH

"Our children were forced into this. They were humiliated. But the police are treating them like criminals."

MS RUBINA BIBI, who claims she was thrown out when she went to make a police report, after her 13-year-old son  was abused

Ms Rubina Bibi told reporters her 13-year-old son was a victim, but when she tried to file a police report a month and a half ago, "the police station clerk told me to get lost and I was thrown out".

"Our children were forced into this," she said. "They were humiliated. But the police are treating them like criminals."

Another mother, Ms Shakila Bibi, added: "I went to the police station to file a complaint, but instead of registering a (report), they took my son into custody." Her 15-year-old son is still in jail, she said.

An initial police probe, carried out last week at the behest of the provincial government, described the allegations as "baseless". The police also downplayed the scale of the abuse, suggesting a land dispute may have sparked the accusations.

But the conclusion was rejected by local media and rights activists.

Activist Mobeen Ghaznavi said he had 130 video clips containing the abuse, and that people were afraid to speak up. "They are being threatened and intimidated," he told reporters.

District police officer Rai Babar said the force would act decisively. "I assure you that we are taking this very seriously and there will be a fair and very transparent investigation," he said.

In one clip seen by Reuters, a boy cowers and cries before putting his hands over the camera lens. In another, a groggy boy is beaten and abused as a man tells him: "I will not stop until you smile."

Three 15-year-old boys told Reuters they were abused for several years. Two said they was threatened with weapons that included knife, an axe and a gun.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'Sharif vows to get tough in child sex-abuse scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe