[10 August 2015] The parents of victims of a child sexual abuse scandal that has horrified Pakistan say police tried to downplay the scale of crimes committed by a paedophile ring in a village in the country’s east.
It has been claimed that up to 280 girls and boys under the age of 14 were filmed being abused in Hussain Khan Wala, a village in Punjab province, near the Indian border.
The videos were then used to blackmail their families as well as being sold to websites that host child abuse images.
Locals say police were reluctant to take action until it became a national scandal.
“Police did not even listen to me when I went to the station,” said the mother of one rape victim, who did not want her name revealed and who first took video evidence to the police in July.
“The first policeman said I should ask my daughter whether her rapist was her lover,” the woman said.
Public anger has been stoked by police claims over the weekend that far fewer victims were involved and that they were well into their teenage years at the time.
Latif Ahmed Sara, a lawyer representing the victims, insisted every third house in the village was affected by the abuse.
Last week there were clashes between police and hundreds of protesters who believe there was an attempt to protect a criminal group that they say includes influential local people.
Police insist they took the case seriously from the start, appealing through local mosques for people with information to come forward. They say they have identified 10 culprits and made seven arrests so far.
The disturbing videos have circulated widely within the village, which is thought to be home to about 5,000 people. Many villagers have copies of the videos on their mobile phones, which they have shown to members of the media who have visited in recent days.
Officials who have viewed them say much of the abuse appeared to take place in a schoolroom and a farmhouse.
The case has triggered a wave of disgust in Pakistan, where child abuse is widespread but rarely challenged, according to human rights groups.
Responding to the public clamour, the chief minister of Punjab, the province where the abuse took place, ordered a judicial inquiry on Sunday. Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has vowed to bring those involved to justice.
There was criticism, however, over the failure of any politicians to visit the village, which lies just 30 miles south of the provincial capital Lahore.
Police say the case was first reported on 1 July and that local mosques were immediately called on to appeal for information.
Rai Babar, a district police officer, said the men in the videos were easily identifiable but that only 50 clips had been recovered, not the hundreds reported in the media.
“I assure you people involved in this inhuman act will be brought to justice,” he said. “It is not something started in the near past, rather it is something related to the last seven or eight years.”
Police have claimed the videos had been brought to light to discredit a group of people involved in a local land dispute.
“Why did the police let criminals get away with doing this to our innocent kids for so long?” asked Abdul Razaq, father of one of the victims. Razaq added that his son had been threatened to keep quiet or risk the video of his abuse being made public.
“They only took action when the media raised the story up,” he said.