We have known for a long time that children are amongst the most vulnerable members of our society. They are assaulted and raped not only outside their homes but also within them. Such incidents frequently go unreported and not discussed even within families. There have been cases of parents keeping cases secret, even though they know their child was molested, and who the culprit was. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it has been reported that while there has been a small decline in the number of assaults this year compared to previous years, 184 children were sexually assaulted in the province, and four of them were murdered; 235 arrests have been made. The murders came in the districts of Kohat, Mardan, Nowshera, and Mansehra. But all across the province, the problem is the same. There is a reluctance to report cases and children, meanwhile, remain at risk. While police have been trained to accept the cases reported to them with a more conducive attitude and to encourage families to do so, there are still social and traditional problems.
The matter is one that police in Peshawar say needs to be addressed on an extremely serious basis. One of the issues brought up again and again by experts is our failure to discuss the problem with children and alert them to possible danger. Parents also need to be conscious and listen to children when they report any act that makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. These are all basics. In many societies, child assault and rape have been dealt with by empowering children to report cases, even over child helplines, and making parents conscious of the need to listen. Indeed, not only parents but also teachers need to be aware of the issue as are members of the police force, who are often too reluctant to believe what goes on within households. It is a good trend that the matter has been brought up at the highest levels in the KP police force. Thirty-five arrests have been made in Peshawar and others in other major cities of the province.
We hope that this attitude towards capturing those guilty of assaulting small children will help bring perpetrators to justice. But to achieve this, the police must also put evidence before courts. Without this evidence, courts are helpless and the persons responsible cannot be punished. This simply gives them greater freedom to act again and encourages others to do the same. We need to look at the loopholes carefully, keep track of the numbers, encourage the reporting of more cases more freely, and make sure families step forward as a whole whenever an assault takes place. In most cases, the assault of children by strangers is far rarer than molestation by someone they know well or someone who is perhaps a family member or a well-known acquaintance.