The Barely Acknowledged Child Abuse Crisis in Pakistan


Pakistan is one of the leading countries with child sexual abuse (CSA) in the world where around 550,000 (0.55 million) children, both boys and girls, are annually raped, but hardly a few hundred cases of sexual abuse come to the surface.

Last week Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency claimed to have arrested from Peshawar, the leader of a gang involved in sexually abusing children and recording obscene videos of minors at gunpoint. On March 17, another case in Kohat came to light where six persons were found assaulting a 13 year old boy for days and threatened to upload the immoral act on social media if he dared disclose the matter to anyone.

Pakistan is one of the leading countries with child sexual abuse (CSA) in the world where around 550,000 (0.55 million) children, both boys and girls, are annually raped, but hardly a few hundred cases of sexual abuse come to the surface. Pakistan ranks third globally in online child abuse. More than 12 cases of child abuse are reported daily in Pakistan. In 2022, a total of 4,253 cases of child abuse were reported, with half of them being sexual abuse. In 2023, there were 2,227 abuse victims, with 54% being girls. Reported cases include sexual abuse, abductions, missing children, and child marriages. Despite being  widely prevalent it is rarely recognized as a social problem.

Among the most notable cases are those of Zainab Ansari, a minor girl, who was raped and murdered in Kasur in 2018; Faizan Muhammad, a nine-year-old, suffered a similar fate in Kasur in 2019. At the time of her death, Kasur was often referred to as “the child abuse capital of Pakistan”, due to the horrifying revelation in 2015 that a paedophile ring had sexually abused 280 children from impoverished areas on the outskirts of the city, filming and selling videos of the assaults. More recently in August 2023, a minor girl named Fatima Phuriro was allegedly brutally tortured and raped in a Haweli (mansion) in Sindh’s Ranipur. The postmortem report confirmed the torture and rape. Pir Asad Shah Jilani, accused of selling a live video of the sexually abused child on the dark web, was implicated in this case.

But according to Prof Naeem Zafar, a leading child rights activist, “Child sexual abuse which we see through media is just a tip of the iceberg, as, according to our research, over five lakh and fifty thousand children, both boys and girls are sexually abused — in fact raped in Pakistan every year.” At the 26th Biennial International Conference in Karachi, Prof. Zafar, said that despite having laws in place for child protection, they are not implemented and child sexual abuse often goes unnoticed or no action is taken by the authorities as children are considered as “property” of their patents. Dr Kishwar Enam from Aga Khan University, while discussing child marriages in Pakistan, said that one in six children in Pakistan are married off in their childhood.[1]

The Zainab Alert Bill passed in the National Assembly following eight-year-old Zainab’s rape and murder in Sukkur in 2018, remains words on paper and is yet to be implementation. The failure of the authorities to restrict movement of sex offenders has had serious repercussions in the past. In August 2022, a rapist convicted in Rawalpindi, moved to Peshawar where he raped three minor girls before gruesomely killing two of them.

In its half-yearly report, Islamabad-based NGO Sahil, operating since 1996, said a  total of 2,227 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the authorities between January and June 2023.[2] The Sahil report further said almost 75 percent of these cases were reported from Punjab, the country’s most populous province.

The absence of an official database for paedophiles coupled with a weak 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 due to social and economic pressures faced by the families of the victims, and the stigma associated with sexual abuse, most of these cases, which do go through legal processes, are settled by compromise between the two parties. According to a report presented in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly, regarding cases of child sexual abuse during the past three years in Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan, only 5 per cent of the accused were convicted, while the remaining were either released due to improper investigations or were still awaiting decisions.

Speaking to DW, Hasnain Muqqdas a survivor of sexual abuse, from the Kotly Satiyan area of Punjab says that he has no hope that justice will be delivered. “In my case, despite the fact that the sexual abuse was filmed and went viral, the perpetrators have been released,” … “The police did not even bother to carry out a forensic investigation of the video. This was really very disappointing.”

A documentary ‘Streets of Shame’ directed by Emmy Award-winner Mohammed Naqvi and written by Jamie Doran,  highlights how Pakistan as a country is in denial, turning a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of tens of thousands of poor and vulnerable children. It focuses on the north-western city of Peshawar, where it is estimated 9 in every 10 street children have been sexually abused. In towns and cities across Pakistan, tens of thousands of vulnerable young boys have become the victims of paedophile predators who seem to have nothing to fear from the law. It’s an open secret that few acknowledge publicly and even fewer want to do anything about. In a society where women are hidden from view and young girls deemed untouchable, the bus stations, truck stops and alleyways have become the hunting ground for perverted men to prey on the innocent. In one survey alone, 95% of truck drivers admitted having sex with boys was their favourite entertainment. The documentary former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan says he’s shocked by the footage shown: “I must say I know it happened, but I didn’t realise it happened to the extent you are saying.”[3]

A lack of monitoring of places such as religious seminaries and detention centres also makes it possible for perpetrators to target children. The true scope of the child abuse crisis in Pakistan remains unknown.

[1] Over half a million children raped in Pakistan annually but most cases go unnoticed: experts (

[2] A child was sexually abused every two hours in Pakistan this year, NGO says | Sexual Assault News | Al Jazeera

[3] Streets of Shame – ABC News

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