Long-running child sex abuse scandal revealed in sleepy Pakistani village
More than 270 children are believed to have been molested by members of a local family
Victim tells CNN he was blackmailed by his attackers to keep quiet
An hour’s drive away from the crowds and chaos of the Pakistani city of Lahore lies the sleepy village of Hussain Khan Wala.
Thick bamboo lines the road leading into this small hamlet; it is the monsoon season and the fields running beside the road are richly packed with a harvest of corn and wheat.
Picturesque and more prosperous – relatively speaking – than most areas of Punjab province, Hussain Khan Wala is at the center of a child abuse scandal that has rocked the country.
Villagers accuse police officials of covering up a pedophile ring, after videos emerged of their children being molested by members of a prominent and influential local family.
They say the abuse had been going on since at least 2009, and that the children were blackmailed to steal from their homes to prevent the videos from going public.
“My child stopped going to school; whenever they saw him, they took him into the fields, in the house,” the 35-year-old mother of one victim told CNN. “They raped him for five hours and now it’s finally coming into the open.”
“They’re savages. I saw my own child in these videos and my heart sank. I ran to the police but there was no help. Everyone in the village knew what was happening but was too scared to say anything.”
A perceived lack of assistance by the police has become one of the major grievances that villagers have with the way the situation has been handled.
“We went to the police and they did nothing,” sobbed the 28-year-old mother of another victim. “They said all our cases were the same, to bring something new for them.”
Lawyer and children’s rights activist Latif Sera says more than 270 children were victims of the pedophile ring, whose members abused children in the fields and in their homestead, outside which, the words “No Entry” are painted in Urdu.
Sera said it was here that the children were drugged, abused and hung upside down naked from ropes.
Sexual abuse and blackmail
A deep well sits ominously in the house’s entrance; villagers tell CNN the family would threaten to drown the children if they complained to their parents.
A 15-year-old boy filmed in one of the videos told CNN he was first raped at the age of nine, after he was approached by a man with a gun while collecting water for his grandfather.
“As soon as I went inside he locked the door. He called out and five more men came in. I started screaming and they covered my mouth. Each of them had a weapon - one had an axe. They said they would cut me into tiny pieces if I made a single sound. Then they raped me.”
He said the abuse continued for another four years, during which time he stole to keep his attackers quiet.
“I stole jewelry and money for them, otherwise they said they would kill me and hyenas and dogs would eat my body,” he explained. “I found $1,300 for them to leave me alone. I stole from my own home, my own family.”
Punjab police say 14 suspects have been arrested in connection with the case. A gang of 20 to 25 people is believed to have been involved in the abuse.
The mother of one of those accused - who faces years behind bars, if convicted – said “the entire village has turned against me,” following the arrests; but she insists: “I’m not scared. One of my children made a mistake many years ago.”
Protests and tension
Reports about the abuse, which emerged in Pakistani media last weekend, have started conversations that experts say may otherwise have been hushed up.
Kendra Gregson, UNICEF’s regional adviser for child protection said that in Pakistan “this issue is not talked about openly, it’s hidden. This makes it more difficult to protect a child due to the taboo and social stigma associated with this issue.”
For now, the scandal remains a constant fixture on the country’s rolling 24 hour news channels.
And in Hussain Khan Wala, the rage provoked by the case continues to simmer.
On Tuesday, Punjab province’s chief of police announced that the suspects wold be tried in a terrorism court to expedite the process. He said 3 police officials have been suspended pending an investigation.
But their press conference was met with slogans of “Death to the police!” and had to be cut short when an angry mob began pelting the police convoy with shoes and stones.
What remains unclear, for now at least, is whether justice will be served, and whether the case will prompt a wider examination of the problem of child abuse, or be treated as just another isolated scandal.
In Hussan Khan Wala, the mother of another of the victims weeps.
“They stole my child’s innocence we work so hard to send them to school, to give them a better life, what can we ever do to get their innocence back for them?”