Children who reported they had been sexually abused by a prominent Pakistani family were detained by police while others were simply ignored, parents at the centre of a growing paedophile-ring scandal have said.
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 the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is expected to be questioned on the topic in parliament. Punjab is the Prime Minister’s political heartland.
Villagers said 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 finds 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 said.
On Sunday, Mr Sharif said in a statement: “[The] Prime Minister… has expressed extreme sadness … [and] 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 Mr Babar. He added that seven cases involving 11 children had been registered.
An 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.
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 said they were abused for several years. Two said they were 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 said he had been abused since he was 10. He stole cash and jewellery from his family after his abusers blackmailed him, he said.
A senior police official said that most of the videos were of consensual sex between teenagers. Other local police officials said the case came to light after a local land dispute between two rivals.