HUSAIN KHAN WALA, Pakistan – Parents at the centre of a growing child abuse scandal in Pakistan accused police on Monday of failing to do enough to break up a paedophile ring in Punjab province, the prime minister’s political heartland.
Accounts of abuse in the central Punjabi village of Husain Khan Wala were splashed across the front pages of Pakistani newspapers over the weekend, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to be questioned on the topic in parliament.
Villagers told Reuters that a prominent family there has for years forced children to perform sex acts on video. The footage was sold or used to blackmail their impoverished families.
Rubina Bibi says her 13-year-old son was a victim, but when she tried to file a report at the Ganda Singh Wala police station a month and a half ago, “the police station clerk told me to get lost and I was thrown out.”
“My son … is in the videos, he is a victim,” she said. “Our children were forced into this. They were humiliated. But the police are treating them like criminals.”
Another mother, 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.
If an inquiry found inadequate police work or complicity, the scandal could engulf the provincial government, headed by the prime minister’s brother.
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 told Reuters.
On Sunday, Sharif said in a statement: “(The) Prime Minister … has expressed extreme sadness … the culprits will be given the harshest possible punishment.”
Villagers say hundreds of children were affected, although they were unable to give names of particular families.
Police have arrested seven suspects, but downplayed the scale of the abuse, suggesting a land dispute may have sparked accusations.
“It’s a very murky situation,” said Babar. He added that seven cases involving 11 children had been registered.
Activist Mobeen Ghaznavi says many children were abused and that he had 130 video clips containing abuse.
“People are afraid. They are being threatened and intimidated,” he said.
Suraiya Bibi said that when she complained to police, her family was threatened by the abusers.
“One day some women in the village showed me these videos. My son was in them. My world collapsed,” she said.
“Kids were being intimidated in these videos with weapons, they were drugged. Kids as young as five years old were made to perform oral sex.”
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.
“He threatened me if I did not compromise, he would kill me on the spot,” one said.
One 18-year-old told Reuters he had been abused since he was 10. He stole cash and jewellery from his family after his abusers blackmailed him, he said.
“I was going to school one day when these boys picked me up and beat me up badly. Then they drugged me, and when I woke up, they showed me these videos they had made of me,” he said.
“They told me that they would bury me alive if I told anyone … I thought about killing myself every single day.”