The discovery of 400 videos of more than 280 children being sexually abused in a village in Pakistani Punjab has prompted a top child protection official to call for a federal inquiry, media report said on Saturday.
Most of the victims were under 14 and they included a six-year-old boy who was forced to perform a homosexual act and a 10-year-old schoolgirl who was filmed being molested by a 14-year-old boy, Pakistani daily The Nation reported.
A gang of about 25 young men and teenagers allegedly arranged the abuse and then used the videos to blackmail the children and their families to hand over millions of rupees. Some children stole gold ornaments from their parents to pay off their abusers to keep their ordeal secret.
The abuse began in 2006 and continued until one year ago, police said. They seized more than 400 videos depicting the assaults, and many of the parents have identified their children as the victims in the footage.
The number of victims is almost three times higher than in a similar case in the late 1990s when around 100 children were sexually abused and murdered in Lahore, the report said.
The scandal became public earlier this week when the victims’ parents clashed with police during a protest against the failure of authorities to prosecute the men behind the videos. Two dozen people were injured when police used force to disperse more than 4,000 protesters near Dolaywala village in Kasur district on Tuesday.
Saba Sadiq, head of Pakistani Punjab’s Child Protection Bureau, described the case as “the largest ever child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history” and said a provincial inquiry announced by chief minister Shahbaz Sharif “would be taken up at federal level to safeguard the children rights in future”.
Thousands of copies of the videos of the sexual assaults are believed to have been sold for Rs 50 each in Hussain Khanwala village of Kasur district, the report said.
One of the victims said he was injected with a drug in the spine before being sexually assaulted.
So far only six alleged abusers have been arrested, and five of them were remanded in custody. But the parents of the victims alleged the abuse was orchestrated by a gang of up to 25 led by two men in their forties.
The parents said police tried to cover up the scandal and that the perpetrators used their influence to avoid being charged.
Sadiq said the provincial government of Punjab will also change the law to ensure “vigorous punishment for such criminals”.
Some of the clips showed that several victims were abused for more than an hour.
In one clip, five to six young men are seen molesting a seven-year-old boy. The videos were recorded at different locations – in open fields, washrooms, bedrooms, and at deserted houses.
“We have arrested six persons after registering six separate cases against them on the complaints of the victims. Five of the accused are on physical remand while the sixth has obtained pre-arrest bail,” district police chief Rai Babar Saeed said.
Police seized the videos for evidence. “I don’t know why they made videos and what was their agenda. Police are investigating,” he added.
Police sources said the main suspect was allegedly released after a Rs5 million bribe was paid on his behalf and the families of some victims said they had been subjected to pressure by a local politician to withdraw their allegations.
One mother aged 35 said she sold her gold ornaments to pay Rs 600,000 to blackmailers for videos of her 14-year-old son being abused to be erased. “They made the video of my son in 2011. We have been paying money to the blackmailers for the last four years. I have seen the videos. It was disgusting and shameful,” she said with tears rolling down her cheeks.
A 10-year-old said he was taken to a ‘haveli’ by the gang at gunpoint. “After being brutally tortured, I was administered a ‘spinal injection’ and I was dozing when five to six men molested me one by one,” he said.
The police arrested a 13-year-old boy for having sex with another child. His mother said her son is innocent because he committed the crime under duress. “They not only molested the children themselves but they also asked the victims to rape each other on camera,” she said.
A local resident said the gang sold the videos to gay porn sites operating from Britain, the US and Europe. One victim said he once heard one of the gang leaders talking on Skype to a customer abroad.