Protests broke out in the Maldives recently after the rape of a 2-year-old girl. She had apparently been attacked by her father, grandfather, and great grandfather, all of whom were arrested. Her 82-year-old great grandfather had previously been investigated over allegations of sexual abuse of children but faced no charges because of his age. Numerous other cases have since surfaced around the island country of authorities failing to prosecute cases of child sexual abuse.
And this failure is sadly repeated across South Asia. In Afghanistan, after activists documented the widespread sexual assault of schoolboys in Logar province, all the wrong things happened: some of the people who had exposed the crimes were detained and others received death threats, while powerful officials – including police officers – among the alleged perpetrators have yet to be charged with a crime.
Authorities broke up a child pornography ring in Pakistan’s Kasur district in 2015, but without proper follow-up, the abuses have continued. A child rights group has documented more than 3,800 cases of child sexual abuse across Pakistan, but the numbers are likely much higher because of underreporting.
Numerous sexual abuse cases have been reported recently in Bangladesh, including offenses committed by religious leaders and teachers. Nineteen-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi was burned to death after filing a complaint of attempted rape against her religious school principal.
And despite strong legislation, India’s official crime records show that more than 100 children were sexually abused every day in 2018. The government’s good polices have been undermined by a failure to enforce them.
South Asian leaders, instead of establishing robust child protection systems, reforming the criminal justice system, and ensuring that victims and their families receive legal and psychosocial support, seem content to scream for rapists to be hanged or summarily executed. But the death penalty has proved no deterrent. What is needed is political will to protect survivors and witnesses, and to appropriately prosecute those responsible. Conviction rates are low in part because police and prosecutors are susceptible to outside pressures. All too often, if the accused is an influential political or religious leader or has their backing, the justice system looks away. South Asia’s children deserve better.