07/25/2016, 21.35
PAKISTAN
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Lahore, 207 children abducted in 2016: fears of sexual abuse racket

by Kamran Chaudhry

Most of the children lived in a poor neighborhood of the city. No ransom demanded: fears of possible trafficking. This month 20 disappeared, children and adolescents; the bodies of four of them were found in garbage bags and dumped in landfills.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Since the beginning of this year 207 children and teenagers have been kidnapped in Lahore, including 20 last month (July) alone. Most of them were found dead in garbage bags, with obvious signs of injury and sexual abuse.

Since a ransom was never demanded, it is feared that they ended up in a round of sexual exploitation. Family members and activists gathered to protest against kidnapping and marched to the headquarters of the Punjab Assembly. The authorities have requested more control, protection for children and compensation to the parents of the victims.

The protest took place on July 23 on the streets of Lahore. Protesters chanted the slogan "protection for our children". According to surveys, most of the missing children lived in poor Badami Bagh district, home to the largest fruit and vegetable market in the city. Of the 20 children kidnapped this month, the remains of four of them were found in garbage bags or thrown in the waste water or landfills.

Shafique Bahtti, the father of Umair Shafique, a child of seven years, spoke to AsiaNews of their pain: "Umar disappeared on the third day of Eid al-Fitr [the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, ed]. After four days, his body was found in a plastic bag and thrown into a drainage ditch. Investigators said he suffered sexual violence ".

The man said that the family has lived in the market for four years and had never had any problems. "My son was playing in the street – he continues - I was able to identify him only by an X-ray, from which I recognized a fracture in his left leg from last year".

The parent also reported that his son's body was mutilated, since without his eyes. He despairs: "Umar was part of our heart. We will live with this burden for the rest of our lives. From that moment my wife, who suffers from diabetes, has been ill". Bahtti complains that "the police did nothing. A provincial minister visited us four days after the funeral, but he stayed with us for a few minutes. We want justice for our child".

A team of the Central Intelligence Agency is visiting the homes of the victims and has told children not to go out alone. Other agents are patrolling the streets. The Rawadari Tehreek Movement (Movement for Tolerance) called for a thorough investigation into the incident. Samson Salamat, the Christian president of the movement, says: "In Lahore, the situation is really worrying. There is an atmosphere of terror because of the frequent disappearances of children and adolescents, especially in areas of Badami Bagh and Data Nagar. Government officials and ministries involved must face the problem and take immediate action to save the kidnapped children. We ask that the families of the victims obtain compensation and we want effective policies to prevent similar crimes in the future".

Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Awami Workers Party, said that the recent abductions bring to mind the case of Javed Iqbal, a serial killer who has killed about 100 teenagers. Iqbal was arrested in 1999 and confessed to raping the victims and dissolving their bodies in acid. In 2001 he committed suicide in jail in Kot Lakhpat, along with two accomplices. Tariq recalls: "In the murderer's house I saw the children's shoes, and the barrels with acid. I fear that the recent wave of kidnappings has as its ultimate goal the exploitation of children for sexual purposes".

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