Zainab, Kainat, Farishtay and Jamna. The list continues. Before all of these, there was the Sumbal case (which remains undetected to this date) and many more before that. Lahore, Mardan, Islamabad and Tando Mohammad Khan, no city is spared. There is outrage, there is anger, there is frustration but none of it is translated into protection and deterrence. The rise in incidents indicates two trends, either they are increasing or they are being highlighted more. The former is a sign of worry and the latter offers hope that change is possible.
The question remains: have we been able to provide justice to the victims and their families? There have also been instances of victims who’ve been made to compromise. Have we learned any lessons from the Zainab case? The conclusion so far has to be in the negative.
In a nutshell, the reporting, detection and prosecution regimes are failing to deal with child rape cases. What can be done about this?
There are four sets of issues which need to be dealt with if this menace is to be controlled. These relate to the cycle of prevention, reporting, investigation, deterrence through punishments and again the monitoring system feeding into prevention. We fail in controlling the crime when we fail in any one, a few or all of these. Prevention is the first step. Normal and routine methods of prevention do not work in Pakistan. The police is supposed to prevent crime by profiling prospective offenders. After that is target protection from intruders, in cases of persons as well as property. But the perpetrators in these cases are rarely outsider intruders. They lurk from close by and seldom show signs of violence openly. The task of prevention becomes even more challenging in urban and semi-urban areas where mobility is easy and monitoring difficult. Awareness is key. Children need to be educated about their encounters with outsiders. Unfortunately organized awareness campaigns are nonexistent or the subject to protest by conservative elements. The police, though handicapped, have failed equally at implementing any sort of preventive regime. The institutional emphasis is still on drugs, moral policing and violence. To prevent rape does not even appear as a priority, so revolving a strategy is a distant dream.
Reporting is the next issue. To register a report is the legal duty of police and a moral one too when the offence is heinous and the victim is a child. Police routinely falter in this duty. Even if a report is registered in time, the assistance and support which a family expects continues to be ignored.
Again the onus is on the police but solutions are conventional like forcing the issue, disciplinary actions and punishments. The real problem lies in our priorities. The SHOs and police station staff do what they have been trained to do. The setting up of special desks does not help unless the core service delivery units i.e. the SHO or Police Station are made service-oriented instead of a local power centers. Since the police station is not geared towards the prevention of such crimes, their interest in pursuing post-occurrence investigation remains lackluster.
Detection of such crimes is the biggest challenge. The child in most cases is either dead or brutally injured and cannot reveal anything. The scientific evidence is the only way forward. There is undoubtedly increased awareness in investigation circles about DNA evidence but a lot has to be done to sensitize the family and first responders about the sanctity of the evidence.
The Punjab Forensic Agency has been an effective unit but everyone in the chain has to cooperate with and complement each other. The cases in which DNA evidence was not available are the hardest to trace. Some national level policy interventions are also needed for long term impact. The establishment of a national DNA database alongside the National Identity Card information is a gigantic task but essential and inevitable. If the offender is not identified at random then his chances of apprehension are limited without a general database.
The capacity of investigators remains an issue. High level JITs are established for cases which attract attention but the local police must have the capacity to tackle these cases. Prosecution and punishments are the only legal deterrent for such heinous criminals. The prosecution process is weak and benefits the accused; the scientific evidence is not examined properly and the victims are then made to compromise under coercion.
The Supreme Court has already set out the procedure in the case Salman Akram Raja vs Govt of Punjab (2013 SCMR 203) to address all these but the implementation has been far from adequate. A super speedy trial as in the Zainab case might not be possible in every case so the prosecution and investigation should be geared up even without media focus. There have to be scores of convictions before deterrence takes effect.
Convictions alone cannot be effective if a monitoring regime is instituted in which accused rape offenders are monitored. This can only happen once the police stations are actively responsive to not just registering rape cases but recording attempts too and offenders are followed as are fourth schedule terrorists.
Recent cases must be reviewed and legal and institutional changes in the cycle of monitoring, prevention, reporting, detection and prosecution, must be made. A special law can be proposed, but complacency and neglect of this issue will jeopardise societal stability.