Just over a year after Imran Ali was executed for what is arguably Pakistan's most well known child abuse case, the rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab Ansari, police have arrested Sohail Ayaz — a serial pedophile, child rapist and registered sex offender — for the drugging and rape of a 13-year-old boy.
Rawalpindi Police has arrested a child rapist and pornographer alleged to have links with the Dark Web. Sohail Ayaz was previously convicted in a child rape case in the UK. He has been registered as a sex offender for life. pic.twitter.com/9I7icX2mtM
— Humans of Pakistan Police (@PolicePakistan) November 12, 2019
A convicted pedophile, Ayaz had been deported to Pakistan by the UK government owing to accounts of multiple child rapes, as well as his involvement with a child pornography ring in Romania. A chartered accountant by profession, Ayaz was hired as a consultant by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government in 2017, but having failed to run a background check, they were unaware that he had previously served a four-year jail term:
Sohail Ayaz was working from Nov 1, 2017 till the termination of his contract on Nov 13, 2019 as a consultant for the KP govt – the Rawalpindi police chief has said it’s safe to say that a major part of his Rs 300k monthly pay was spent satisfying his paedophiliac urges
— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) November 14, 2019
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) had cancelled Sohail Ayaz's registration in 2009 – after his conviction in the UK for raping minors and possession of child pornography pic.twitter.com/IMmtr2fxqO
— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) November 13, 2019
During his five-day interrogation for this latest crime, Ayaz confessed that he had raped over 30 children and uploaded videos to the dark web, causing online discussion to turn towards the endemic nature of child sexual abuse in the country and the need for measures to be put in place to prevent minors from becoming victims in the first place:
He confessed to raping 30 children. Child abuse is endemic in Pakistan with actual hotbeds of molestation. Before all else, this issue needs to be resolved. pic.twitter.com/wr4VGgS09h
— Paul (@mrithejester) November 12, 2019
A pressing reminder of the need for reform came on the morning of November 15, when a tweet by Pakistani actress Nadia Jameel told of another gruesome incident: a nine-year-old boy being brutally raped by his landlord. Although the offender has since been arrested by the authorities, concerns abound over the child's trauma and his chances of physical, emotional and psychological healing.
Responses to Jameel's tweet included suggestions that legalising prostitution could help channel sexual urges, as well as calls for a proper child protection framework and the need for provincial and the federal governments to devise an effective strategy in the face of a failing system.
Child abuse cases are increasing
Despite the country's severe punishments for child abuse — including castration, life imprisonment, and the death penalty — sex offenders keep molesting children and case numbers are climbing.
In 2018, the Sahil Foundation, an NGO in Pakistan that works in the child abuse space, reported an 11 percent increase in child abuse cases from the previous year. Out of the 3,832 cases of child abuse it recorded, 55 precent of the victims were girls and 45 percent were boys. The 2019 numbers are even more disturbing: as many as 1,304 Pakistani children (729 girls and 575 boys) have had to face some form of sexual abuse within the last six months, causing social media users to ask a lot of questions:
Scroll your timeline and you'll come across a new case of pedophilia in Pakistan every 10 minutes. Maybe we need a separate agency for protection of children? Does something like this exist? @ShireenMazari1 what is being done for the child abuse cases being brought forward?
— Fariha (@fay_alif) November 12, 2019
In Pakistan, we urgently need a #SexOffenders list, made available to neighborhoods/offices etc.
Secondly, why doesn’t FIA investigate ‘cause of deportation’ of Pakistanis?
Thirdly, who’re the inside facilitators?#SohailAyaz #ProtectChildren #ChildAbuse #Kasur #SexualAbuse https://t.co/dlTvKsEOnV
— Faeza Dawood (@FaezaDawood) November 12, 2019
The FIA referred to in the previous tweet is Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency.
What are the characteristics of a predator?
Part of the challenge in clamping down on sex offenders before they strike is that predators are not always easy to identify. In a blog post, writer Meher Khursheed explained:
Because we expect abusers to be loners, mentally deranged, and overtly creepy, we aren’t able to see when a predator is a charming, friendly and even popular person in our midst.
Many a time, these predators befriend the target or hunt for readily available prey — children who can be victimized and trapped, as was the case with Zainab Ansari and countless others whose names and faces may not even have made it into mainstream media coverage.
Even though society is aware and concerned about the threats, many of the targeted minors come from poorer backgrounds, including child laborers, who are more easily able to be abducted.
The death penalty is not a deterrent
In a post on Dawn.com, Saroop Ijaz argued that not even the death penalty guarantees deterrence from such heinous crimes. He also pointed to the fact that in such instances, news reports tend to focus more on the perpetrator, overlooking both the on-the-ground realities and the magnitude of the problem.
Many believe, however, that the effectiveness of such punishments should be a secondary concern, and that the more urgent needs include establishing a special task force charged with identifying these culprits, digging deeper into the psychology of such miscreants, and raising awareness about the sexual abuse of minors.
But could part of the solution include rehabilitation, at least for less serious crimes? One British constabulary chief, Simon Bailey, who heads Operation Hydrant, a child sexual abuse investigation, has suggested exactly that — though he admits that people will find such an approach difficult to hear.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's leading psychiatrists have been begging the authorities to take concrete steps to prevent the rape and murder of children, instead of treating these incidents solely as law and order cases. Their suggestions include launching an effective media campaign to sensitise communities about the areas of vulnerability for children, pinpointing potential threats and risk factors, and identifying the various forms of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect.